COVID-19 spike in August and 5 Omicron sub variants

From January 2023 till August this year, there have been a total of 280 people who tested positive for COVID-19. The actual cases would be much higher but the level of mintoring and testing has come down.

The maximum cases were seen in the months of January with 70 cases and August with 66 cases.

February saw 21 cases, March had 32 cases, April saw 22 cases, May saw 18 cases, June saw 16 cases and July saw 35 cases.

These cases were discovered in two main ways: 149 individuals were discovered through active monitoring, and 139 through a surveillance system that tracks influenza-like illnesses (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI).

Additionally, seven people were found to have both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. The RCDC keeps a close eye on the COVID-19 situation by checking for new cases every week.

Interestingly, seven cases were detected as coinfections, involving both SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza.

The affected population spanned a wide age range, from as young as 0.1 years to 96 years, with an average age of 38.6 years. The most affected age groups were 30-39 years (22.0 percent) and 40-49 years (21.0 percent).

To better understand the viral landscape, gene sequencing was performed on 23 isolates from January to June by RCDC. These isolates were analyzed and shared with the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID). Intriguingly, five different Omicron sub-variants were detected, with EP.1 being the most prevalent, making up a total of 17 cases. Other sub-variants included BL.1 (1 case), XBB.2.4 (1 case), XBB.2.3.2 (1 case), and XBB.1.16 (3 cases), totaling 23 cases up until June.

As COVID-19 case counts surge in the United States and parts of Europe, the global community remains on high alert for emerging variants of the virus. The recently designated variant BA.2.86, unofficially named “Pirola” has raised concerns worldwide, including in the United States and parts of Europe. Is the new variant a concern for Bhutan?

This new lineage boasts over 30 mutations in its spike protein compared to its closest ancestor, BA.2, and the recently circulating XBB.1.5 lineage.

While this variant has generated concerns, the Variant Technical Group at the UK’s Health Security Agency has not classified it as a “variant of concern” at this time. Their assessment suggests no evidence of changes in biological properties or a growth rate that would outpace currently circulating variants.

The Head of the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Bhutan, Dr Sonam Wangchuk, emphasized the country’s ongoing vigilance in monitoring and testing the virus. He noted that since the onset of the pandemic, numerous variants have emerged globally, but most of them are regarded as the least concerned variant.

Dr Sonam emphasized, “For now, it is not considered a variant of concern as we have not received information from WHO indicating its severity.”

Addressing the situation in Bhutan, Dr Sonam reassured the public that, even on the outbreak of the variant, the country’s hospitals can handle a few hundred severe cases. The RCDC conducts regular sampling tests from respected hospitals every week and monitors the variants every three months.

Dr Sonam emphasized that Bhutan’s response prioritizes vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, and individuals with underlying medical conditions.

WHO has classified Pirola as a “variant under monitoring”, meaning that it has genetic changes that may affect its characteristics, such as transmissibility, severity, or immune escape.

The Ministry of Health is conducting random sample collection at entry points to detect any potential new COVID-19 variants. There is currently no specific COVID-19 testing being conducted. Instead, individuals showing flu-like symptoms are encouraged to seek guidance.

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