'FLiRT' COVID-19 Variant May Be More Resilient Than Previous Strains

Although the new strain, FLiRT, could trigger an uptick in COVID-19, researchers say it may not be as infectious as previous variants.

Since first emerging over four years ago, SARS-CoV-2 has undergone several mutations, evolving into strains like Eris, Arcturus, and JN.1, among others.

Currently, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that a new COVID-19 variant called KP.2 is responsible for nearly 25% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States. KP.2 is an offshoot of JN.1 and part of a family of strains referred to as FLiRT variants. Another FLiRT strain called KP.1.1 is causing around 7% of COVID-19 illnesses in the U.S.

Currently, COVID-19 is trending downward across the nation after a mid-winter surge. However, a new analysis of KP.2 found that this particular strain has mutations that could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The study results, published on April 26 in bioRxiv, are awaiting peer review.

The analysis found that KP.2 can transmit person to person with greater ease than the JN.1 variant. However, it is not as infectious as JN.1, meaning the virus has difficulty establishing an infection in its host. The scientists say this reduced infectivity may indicate that KP.2 uses different mechanisms to transmit between people.

In addition, KP.2 appears to have the ability to defy immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccines and prior infections.

Since the FLiRT variants have only recently emerged, whether they will trigger an uptick in COVID-19 cases has yet to be determined. Still, the researchers say they will likely become the most predominant variants worldwide.

What are the symptoms of FLiRT COVID?

COVID-19 causes a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, and loss of taste or smell. Although these can change with a new variant, the symptoms of FLiRT are expected to be similar to those of previous strains.

Virologists closely watch new strains to identify whether they have mutations that could lead to more severe illness. However, as time passes, symptoms of COVID-19 variants appear to be getting milder.

According to the BMJ, increased immunity of general populations and the tendency for new variants to infect the upper respiratory tract instead of infecting cells deeper in the lungs may explain this phenomenon.

Moreover, the CDC recently updated its COVID-19 isolation guidelines to match those of influenza and other respiratory viruses due to high immunity among the public and falling death rates from the disease.

Still, people at risk for severe COVID-19, including older adults and those with weakened immune systems, should seek testing and treatment to help prevent serious illness. Individuals with COVID who are experiencing trouble breathing, persistent chest pain, or other concerning symptoms should obtain medical care immediately.

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