LSU Health New Orleans’ Precision Medicine Lab has found two new SARS-CoV-2 variants in Louisiana. BE.1 and BF.1 are subvariants of the Omicron Variant of Concern that has driven the latest surge. The lab identified three cases of BE.1 and one case of BF.1 in tests performed at the end of June.
“To our knowledge, these Omicron subvariants have not been reported in the United States until now,” said Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, co-director of the Precision Medicine Lab and professor and head of genetics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. “Their possible clinical and public health significance is still unknown.”
LSU Health New Orleans is part of a multistate group supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) that monitors SARS-CoV-2 sequence diversity in Institutional Development Award states. LSU Health New Orleans also partners with the Louisiana Department of Health, Ochsner and BIE, a Louisiana company experienced in infectious disease bioinformatics, to collect samples from COVID tests and sequence them to determine what is circulating in the State.
“The pattern that is emerging from the data is one whereby once a dominant variant emerges, such as Delta and Omicron, the genetic diversity of the virus temporarily drops as the new variant takes over,” said Miele. “After that, multiple subvariants emerge from mutations of the dominant variant. This is the most important time to monitor the emergence of new subvariants, especially if their numbers start increasing, and determine what's different about them. This kind of information is critical to understanding transmission or resistance to therapeutics.”
Variants of SARS-CoV-2 have become increasingly better able to spread and to evade immunity. Omicron is more transmissible than Delta was, and Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 seem to have the ability to infect people who were immune to earlier variants and subvariants. Some have also shown resistance to monoclonal antibodies used to reduce the severity of COVID-19.