STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A new subvariant of Omicron that some experts say may be the most immune-resistant to date has been identified in the United States, scientists, researchers and health officials told the media Thursday.
Two cases of BA.2.75, dubbed “Centaurus,” identified by the World Health Organization have been found in the United States, with the first identified on June 14, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Fortune.
The CDC does not publicly report emerging variants until they make up 1 percent of cases, according to its website. BA.2.75 cases are currently reported in the agency’s data tracker under BA.2 cases, which made up less than 3 percent of reported cases in the U.S. last week, according to data released July 2.
Centaur has recently become famous in India. WHO officials recently announced that they are tracking the ultra-novel sub-variant and released some information about it via Twitter on Tuesday.
BA.2.75 has been reported in “about 10 other countries” and has not been declared a dangerous variant, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said in a recent tweet. Transmissibility, severity and the potential to evade immunity are currently unknown, she said.
But some experts said they were more concerned. Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research and founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said Monday that mutations of the new subvariant “could make immune escape worse than what we see now,” reported Fortune.
And last week, Tom Peacock, virologist at Imperial College London, urged surveillance experts to keep a close eye on BA.2.75, citing several spike mutations, the likelihood of it being a second-generation variant, apparent rapid growth and wide geographic spread, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Disease Research and politics.
BA.2.75 was first detected in India in early June and has up to nine additional changes, none of which are individually affecting, the scientists said. “But having them all appear at once is another matter,” Peacock said in a recent tweet, Fortune reported.
But the “apparent rapid growth and wide geographic spread” are worrisome, he said.
The virus has also been found in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, according to a statement Tuesday from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, citing Ulrich Elling, a researcher at the Austrian Institute of Molecular Biotechnology.
Dr. Amesh Adalya, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Fortune on Thursday that it was unclear whether Centaurus could “actually take off” in the face of BA.5 and relatively BA.4.
Centaurus “could just spread out for a period of time until it hits BA.5 and is overtaken for human infestation,” Adalya said. “At this point, I don’t know if BA.2.75 will be more than a regional issue that will eventually be overwhelmed by BA.5.”
The super variant may also reflect another “stealth Omicron” spinoff, BA.2.12.1, as it may take over for a period, as BA.2.12.1 did in the United States, becoming dominant over BA.2 in May and remaining dominant until the BA.4 and BA.5 pushed it in late June – until the next more portable option came along, he said.
Can Centaurus cause a more severe disease? Such variants “wouldn’t be something that evolution insists on,” Adalya told Fortune, adding that those with more severe disease are usually at home or in the hospital, too sick to go out and spread the virus.