Experts warn of summer surge as new FLiRT variants of COVID emerge

New variants of the coronavirus, named FLiRT, are currently circulating globally and are becoming more dominant in the United States. These variants, which begin with either KP or JN, are named after the mutations they have picked up, according to Johns Hopkins University. The FLiRT variants are descendants of the JN.1 variant, which was prevalent in the U.S. in December and early this year.

Experts are concerned about the potential for these variants to cause a summer surge in cases as more Americans gather for summer holidays, as evidence suggests they may be highly transmissible. The FLiRT variants have two extra mutations on their spike proteins compared to JN.1, leading some experts to believe they may be able to evade people's immunity.

The dominant FLiRT variant in the U.S. is KP.2, making up 28.2% of cases in a two-week period in May. Another FLiRT variant, KP.1.1, accounted for over 7% of cases during the same period, according to data from the CDC. While some experts believe these variants could be more transmissible, there is currently no evidence that their symptoms are different or worse than previous strains.

Experts believe that the most up-to-date COVID-19 vaccines, which focus on omicron strains, should offer some protection against the FLiRT variants. The FDA's vaccine advisory committee has postponed its meeting to discuss new recommendations for COVID-19 vaccines until June 5 to allow for more up-to-date information.

Global cases of COVID-19 have been on the decline, with a significant decrease in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths between March and April, according to the WHO. While the U.K. Health Security Agency continues to monitor the new variants, there is currently no change to wider public health advice regarding the FLiRT variants.


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