New, fast-spreading COVID strain detected in Maine

New, fast-spreading COVID strain detected in Maine
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Maine health officials said a new variant of the coronavirus has arrived in Maine.

In its latest sampling and testing of Mainers, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it detected a case of the marked variant BA.4, a subvariant of the omicron version of the virus that emerged this year.

State officials haven’t released more information about the test that revealed the new version of the coronavirus, such as where it was found in the state or anything about who took it. contracted.

“It’s more transmissible than previous variants, so it’s no surprise that genomic testing is picking it up in Maine,” Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav D. Shah said in a statement.

Shah has previously said he believes the COVID-19 pandemic has now entered a phase where the virus “comes and goes” as new variants emerge, spread and then fade.

As he has done when previous variants emerged in the state, Shah recommended Mainers stay up to date on vaccines and boosters and speak to a medical provider about getting early therapeutic treatment s are positive for COVID.

Meanwhile, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Maine has remained stable for the past few days. There were 137 patients in hospital statewide as of Monday morning, including 18 in intensive care and six on ventilators. That’s slightly up from 135 patients on Sunday, but down from 169 on June 5.

The state does not update new cases on Mondays. Maine’s most recent seven-day average is 248 new cases per day, up from more than 800 new cases per day in early May.

BA.4 was first identified in South Africa, although this does not mean that it developed there. South Africa has a robust public health system and new variants are often identified there first.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists believe BA.4 and other omicron variants are less severe than earlier versions of the coronavirus. Although breakthrough infections of vaccinated people or those who have already had a version of the coronavirus are expected, the CDC said, health officials still recommend vaccinations and booster shots as the best way to avoid contracting the virus. .

Waves of variants are expected, scientists say, as the virus mutates and finds new ways to beat the body’s defenses and infect new hosts.

“Based on data from other countries, the CDC predicts that BA.4 and BA.5 will continue to spread. If cases increase, hospitalizations will increase, but the hospitalization rate will likely be similar to other omicron bloodlines,” Federal CDC spokeswoman Jasmine Reed said in an email.

“We’ve seen wave after wave of new variants coming in over the past year,” said Ryan Tewhey, assistant professor and complex disease expert at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

Scientists are still learning more about BA.4, Tewhey said, including its gravity, although early indications indicate it is roughly the same as previous omicron offshoots. That means it’s likely milder than previous versions of the coronavirus, but can still be serious and life-threatening for those with underlying health conditions, he said.

Omicron itself was more transmissible but somewhat less virulent than earlier versions of the virus, he said.

It’s also unclear how BA.4 got to Maine, Tewhey said, but it will likely follow a similar path to other variants that gained a foothold in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, then spread from east to west across the country.

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