U.S. wastewater tests find highly mutated COVID-19 variant.

U.S. wastewater tests find highly mutated COVID-19 variant.

New Variant of COVID-19 Detected in U.S. Wastewater Raises Concerns


Public health officials in the United States have discovered a new variant of COVID-19, BA.2.86, in wastewater samples. This detection has sparked concerns about the highly mutated variant spreading in the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the announcement, revealing that routine wastewater sampling led to the identification of the variant. However, they did not specify the exact locations where the samples were taken.

According to CNN, nine sequences of this new variant have been reported worldwide, with cases identified in countries such as Denmark, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Switzerland. In addition, the United States has reported two sequences: one from a patient in Michigan and another from a patient in Virginia, who had recently traveled to Japan.

Although most patients infected with the BA.2.86 variant have experienced mild symptoms, the concern arises from the more than 30 gene changes observed in this variant compared to its ancestor, BA.2. This level of genetic evolution is similar to what occurred when the virus mutated from the Delta variant to the highly contagious Omicron variant in 2021.

Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, described BA.2.86 as a potential “neutralization antibody escape mutant.” This implies that it could be more challenging for our bodies to fight off infections caused by this variant. However, the specific impact on immunity and how this variant will compete against other variants for dominance is still unknown.

Researchers, such as Michael Diamond from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, believe it is too early to determine whether BA.2.86 will emerge and become the dominant variant. While samples of this variant have been collected since late July, it is suspected that its local spread has gone unnoticed. Unlike with the rapid growth of the Omicron variant, there has been limited observation of BA.2.86’s spread.

To better understand the structure of this variant, scientists are working on building models of it in their labs. Bette Korber, in collaboration with other researchers, aims to clarify its structure so that more comprehensive studies can be conducted. Additionally, tracking the real-world impacts on immunity and the effectiveness of existing vaccines against this variant requires further investigation, as samples for more reliable laboratory testing are not yet broadly available.

In the coming weeks, more information will emerge regarding the immunity and potential impact of the BA.2.86 variant. Scientists and health officials worldwide are closely monitoring the situation to ensure effective strategies are in place to combat the spread of this mutated strain. This latest discovery highlights the importance of ongoing surveillance, rapid response, and continued vaccination efforts to mitigate the impact of emerging variants of COVID-19.


  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 23, 2023
  • CNN, Aug. 23, 2023

Additional Information:

For more details on tracking COVID-19 variants, visit the World Health Organization website.