A GP has outlined the key Covid symptoms to spot as we head into the Christmas period. The latest government data from November 12 suggests that the EG.5.1 variant, known as Eris, is the most prevalent strain in the UK, followed by BA.2.86, or Pirola.
However, Dr Johannes Uys, GP from Broadgate General Practice in London, told Express.co.uk that it’s more likely that Pirola currently holds dominance. While there is little evidence to suggest that the Omicron spin-off is more concerning than the dozens of strains that came before, Pirola has a large number of mutations.
Scientists have established the subvariant carries 30 more mutations in the spike protein than the previous dominant variant. These mutations could make BA.2.86 potentially more transmissible and severe.
Therefore, Dr Uys recommended staying on top of symptoms. He said: “The signs and symptoms are very similar to those of previous strains.
“These include a persistent cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, fatigue, headache, sneezing, runny nose and aches and pains. It’s unlikely that Pirola BA.2.86 will affect you worse than any other variant.”
If you identify any of these symptoms, the GP recommended temporarily ceasing contact with any vulnerable people, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with serious chronic health issues.
He added: “You should then take a Covid test. If it comes back positive, you would ideally isolate yourself until the virus has run its course.
“If your symptoms worsen dramatically or you find yourself unable to breathe, you should seek urgent medical attention.”
Dr Uys added that Pirola and possibly other variants are likely to be driving up cases around Christmas time.
He said: “If someone in your household becomes ill with it, you may have to change your Christmas plans to protect friends and family members from the virus. However, there are currently no government restrictions in place.”
Furthermore, Pirola isn’t the only variant that could be spiking cases in the run-up to December 25. Professor Nicolas Locker, a virologist at the Pirbright Institute, told SkyNews that a new subvariant of Pirola, known as JN.1, could cause a “fairly large rise” in Covid cases this Christmas.
While official data suggests that virus levels are currently decreasing, scientists predict the rates will go back up again with the festive season in full swing.
JN.1 hasn’t spread widely enough for the UK Health Security Agency to sub-categorise it in its sequencing data, but some experts warn it could evade the immune system more easily.
The sub-variant has one mutation in its spike protein which dictates how easily it can infect cells. But there are also several other mutations elsewhere.
While there is still much unknown about the new variant, Clare Bryant, professor of innate immunity at the University of Cambridge, has warned that JN.1 could become the “next common variant”.
She said that while there isn’t enough data to confirm anything yet, the changes in the spike protein could mean JN.1 evades immune systems more easily and replicates faster. Bryant said: “The change in the spike protein will probably correlate to it being more infectious.
“And that’s what’s caused us the most problems so far – because you can’t control something that’s that infectious.”