KP.2 is now the dominant covid variant. Experts say summer cases will spike in the US

KP.2 currently accounts for 28.2% of cases in the United States, CDC data show.

Over the past few months, JN.1 has dominated the Covid-19 variants in the US, accounting for the majority of cases. However, a new variant has taken hold and could lead to an increase in cases this summer.

KP.2, part of the Omicron variant, is currently estimated to account for 28.2% of Covid cases, making up 1.4% of cases in mid-March. Data from the Centers for Disease and Prevention.

Over the past four years, the US has seen summer waves of Covid, and this summer may see an increase in cases, but not as severely as in past seasons.

“We’ve had four consecutive summers of COVID over the last four years,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), told ABC. news. “We expect an increase this summer as well, but it won’t be as big and it won’t be as deep as the winter.”

Chin-Hong would refer to this increase as a “swell” rather than a “tide” or “surge.”

“It’s like watching the swell come in when you’re at the beach,” he explained. “It’s not like a tsunami, it’s not like a big wave hitting, it’s like a small swell. But the swell means that some people are going to get sick.”

Initial data KP.2 has more mutations in the spike protein than JN.1, which the virus uses to attach to — and infect — cells that make KP.2 more infectious.

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“The potential for the virus to evolve is expected, and it’s something we’ve prepared for in our current public health response,” said ABC News contributor Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Given the seasonal patterns seen with COVID-19, a slight increase in cases can be expected this summer, making continued surveillance and vaccination efforts even more imperative.”

Experts say there is no clear evidence that KP.2 — which some scientists have nicknamed “FLiRT” on social media, but is not the official name used by the CDC or the World Health Organization — causes more severe disease or is more dangerous. Previous variations.

Although more studies are needed to see if KP.2 is better at evading current vaccines than other strains, Chin-Hong said his experience at UCSF Hospital over the past few weeks suggests that the vaccines continue to provide good protection.

One factor common to all patients hospitalized at UCSF with severe Covid is that none of them received the updated COVID vaccine released in the fall of 2023.

“If you haven’t, go ahead and get it,” Chin-Hong said.

He added that it is especially important to get vaccinated for those who suffer from serious illnesses, such as those with weakened immune systems or those aged 65 and above.

No increase in Covid hospitalizations in the US, a landmark for the nation.

In late April, the latest week for which data is available, the US had 5,615 weekly Covid hospitalizations. By comparison, at the peak of the Omicron variant, more than 150,000 weekly additions were in circulation in early 2022.

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Experts say the U.S. is in a much better place to fight Covid than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and the new strains are a reminder to be vigilant, but not to panic.

“We have to remember that this virus is now part of the respiratory mix that we deal with every year, just like influenza, and like influenza, we’re trying to stay ahead of the game to prepare for a potential outbreak or understand how vaccines fit in,” Brownstein said. “It’s all bread-and-butter public health surveillance. It’s important to stay up-to-date on vaccinations and be vigilant and stay home when sick.”

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