In Ireland, there is growing concern over the surge in cases of the BA.2.86 variant, also known as the ‘Pirola’ variant. The number of documented cases has risen from 23 to 27 since November 1. This variant, first identified in Israel, has been detected in several countries worldwide, including Denmark, the UK, the USA, and South Africa. What makes this variant particularly worrying is the significant number of mutations it possesses, raising questions about its potential impact on transmission and disease severity.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, another variant of concern, the ‘Eris’ variant (EG.5), is also spreading in Ireland. There have been a total of 1,144 cases of the Eris variant, with an increase of 365 cases since November 1. Complicating matters further is the emergence of a distinct symptom associated with the Pirola variant: severe fatigue. This symptom appears to be more prevalent among those affected by the BA.2.86 variant compared to the classic COVID-19 symptoms like cough, fever, and loss of smell.
A study conducted by the Zoe Health Study, the largest ongoing study of COVID-19, supports the observation of severe fatigue as a predominant feature of the Pirola variant. The study, with over 4.5 million contributors globally, found that 82% of app contributors who tested positive for the virus reported experiencing severe fatigue. The Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland also lists fatigue as one of the top three COVID-19 symptoms, alongside a high temperature or chills and a dry cough.
Examining the epidemiological landscape in Ireland, the weekly report for Week 44, 2023, provides an overview of the COVID-19 situation. During this week, there were 418 new confirmed cases, indicating a 20.2% decrease compared to the previous week. The age group most affected during this week was 75-84 years, accounting for 19.6% of the notified cases. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ireland has recorded a total of 30,888 confirmed cases.
In terms of hospitalizations, 194 confirmed COVID-19 cases were admitted to hospitals during Week 44. However, it should be noted that the outcomes of these cases may not be known or reported yet. There were no COVID-19 cases admitted to the ICU during this week. The report also provides details on hospitalizations and ICU admissions by age group, highlighting the varying impact of the virus on different demographics.
The report reveals that two deaths were reported in Week 44, with an average and median age of 85 years for those who succumbed to the virus. The total number of COVID-19 deaths in Ireland since the start of the pandemic is 9,345.
Geographically, the distribution of confirmed COVID-19 cases by county shows interesting patterns. In Week 44, Waterford, Carlow, and Kilkenny reported higher incidence rates, underscoring the localized nature of the virus’s impact. A heat map included in the report visually represents the weekly age-specific incidence rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over the last eight weeks, illustrating the evolving trends.
In conclusion, the increasing cases of the BA.2.86 variant in Ireland highlight the need for heightened vigilance from health authorities and the public. The variant’s association with severe fatigue adds a new dimension to the evolving nature of the virus, necessitating ongoing research and adaptation of public health strategies. As Ireland continues to navigate the pandemic, it is crucial to maintain monitoring, testing, and a robust public health response to mitigate the impact of emerging variants and safeguard public health. The complex interplay of factors, including variant characteristics and localized spread patterns, demands a dynamic and adaptable approach to effectively combat the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19.