BF.7 is emerging globally with new medical challenges: Noted Epidemiologist

Hyderabad: A fresh BF.7 omicron variant is emerging across the globe with new medical challenges averred noted Epidemiologist Dr Naresh Purohit.

Covid-19 outbreak in China has caused the world to go into panic mode again, exactly three years after the first episode of SARS-CoV-2 was reported in December 2019.

“Severe winter and vulnerability of elderly with co-morbidities and declining immunity is providing an environment for Omicron sub-variants to keep mutating, eventually bypassing vaccine immunity so far achieved in the populations,” Dr Purohit said.

Sharing his concern on this issue after virtually addressing a webinar on ‘Challenges posed by BF.7 omicron variant’ organised by the Warangal based Kaloji Narayana Rao University of Health Sciences (KNRUHS) here, Advisor, National Communicable Disease Control Programme Dr Purohit told UNl here on Tuesday that the rapid replacement of Covid-19 strains is raising the spectra of yet another wave of the pandemic in the coming weeks.

It is indeed alarming that the virus continues to evolve and evade, he warned that the pandemic has not come to an end as yet. China, Japan, USA and South Korea are in the middle of a surge in Covid-19 cases.

“The current surge in China is caused by the BF.7 variant and alarmingly, cases of BF.7 have already been detected in India,” he said.

Citing a recent study published in the International Journal Cell, Principal Investigator for the National Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme Dr Purohit pointed that the study concluded that four Omicron sub-variants, BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB and XBB1 are resistant to Covid-19 vaccines, even after booster doses. The findings of this study indicate that these sub-variants present a serious threat. The study also concludes that monoclonal antibodies, a very common treatment for Covid-19, are completely ineffective against these sub-variants.

“BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 currently account for 70 per cent of circulating variants worldwide,” he said the four sub-variants in the study have successfully replaced BA.5, which was the common Omicron variant over the past year.

“Today, BA.5 accounts for only 10 percent of Covid- 19 in the world.” he said.

Dr Purohit averred that in the USA, in the past week, hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19 are up 18 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, yet another worrisome statistic.

Renowned Infectious Disease Expert also averred that 22 Indian genomic surveillance centres could be proactive with early warning signals of new mutants.

“The entire world is at a loss with regard to credible information on the Chinese Covid-19 outbreak such as daily numbers, deaths, disease symptoms, and if it was caused by the ancestral or mutating sub-variants of Omicron, like the BF.7. Anecdotal information suggests that sub-variant BF.7 is highly transmissible with an observed transmission rate (Ro) of infecting 16-18 persons from one patient,” he said.

“That places BF.7 transmissibility at par with the rate of spread of measles! If this is true, a model suggests that China will have 800 million new cases and one million deaths in the next three months. As it was established during the past waves that the immune compromised and/or the elderly continue to be at a greater risk of illness and death,” he added.

Experts at the webinar categorically said that any virus has the potential to mutate and pose new threats, particularly if the mutated strain is more virulent. Genome sequencing, thus, becomes a scientific priority in order to suitably address new and mutated variants.

“Having learnt from past experience, particularly the ‘worst’ second Covid wave, our systems are now better prepared to deal with the challenges. However, it is vital that we do not let our guard down.” they said.

Experts revealed that systemic efforts by the government are only one part of the solution to the Covid conundrum. As stakeholders ourselves, all of us need to contribute by following Covid- appropriate behaviour and habits, which have been emphasised since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The most important, of course, is the use of masks, particularly in closed spaces, crowds and when having close contact with an infected person. Anyone visiting a hospital as a patient or an attendant must wear a mask. Besides, the maintenance of social distancing, wherever possible, proper hand-washing and avoiding crowded gatherings are some of the other practices to which we should revert.” he added.

They urged the people who have not yet taken the precautionary or booster dose must get one immediately. “Vaccines have been found to be the most effective way in preventing severe symptoms and serious infection. It is saddening to find that nearly 70 per cent of the eligible persons have not taken the booster dose.” the experts added.

UNI

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