Warning About FLiRT Variants: Potential for Another Wave of Coronavirus?

Tue 7th May, 2024

Image by Gerd Altmann from PixabayEven as the pandemic winds down, the coronavirus remains a dynamic threat, evolving and mutating. Researchers are now monitoring a new cluster of variants that are spreading rapidly, dubbed the FLiRT variants. The moniker has no connection to romantic endeavors; rather, it stems from the letters "F," "L," "R," and "T," found in the specific mutations of these variants, such as "F456L."

FLiRT Variants Gain Traction in Germany Amid Global Concerns

Following the dominance of the Omicron lineage JN.1 in recent months, attention has shifted to the emergence of the FLiRT variants. Notably, one member of this family, KP.2, accounted for a significant portion--25 percent--of variant cases analyzed in the United States during the final two weeks of April, according to recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Germany, too, finds itself grappling with the FLiRT variants. While JN.1 remains prevalent, comprising 38 percent of cases according to the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), KP.2 has surged to second place with 19 percent. Renowned American cardiologist and author Eric Topol has voiced concern over this development, acknowledging the collective exhaustion with the prolonged pandemic and urging vigilance against the ever-evolving virus.

Potential Impact of FLiRT Variants Examined Amid Optimism and Caution

Topol and others suggest that FLiRT variants may outcompete their predecessors due to advantageous traits. A preliminary Japanese study, pending expert review, supports this hypothesis, indicating that KP.2 possesses a higher reproductive capacity than the JN.1 variant, potentially positioning it as the dominant strain globally.

Despite these concerning findings, Topol offers reassurance, predicting a wave of infections in the coming months but downplaying the likelihood of a significant resurgence attributable to FLiRT variants. He believes these variants are unlikely to pose a substantial challenge to the immune system, although he cautions against complacency, acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding future developments.

Topol advocates for additional vaccinations, particularly for immunocompromised individuals and those over 65, echoing recommendations from the Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) for annual booster shots among at-risk groups. As for symptoms, it remains unclear whether FLiRT variants present distinct clinical manifestations, though they may exhibit characteristics reminiscent of Omicron, such as fever, chills, sore throat, runny nose, cough, and respiratory distress.

As the world braces for potential shifts in the trajectory of the pandemic, continued monitoring, vaccination efforts, and research remain crucial in combating the evolving threat posed by FLiRT variants.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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