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As Maharashtra detects 91 FLiRT COVID cases, expert rules out any immediate concern

IANS May 13, 2024

Even as the 91 cases of new FLiRT COVID-19 variants, accounting for more than a third of cases in the US, have reportedly been detected in Maharashtra, there is nothing to worry immediately, a top expert said on 12 May.

The new set of variants dubbed FLiRT, majorly includes KP.1.1, and KP.2 strains. These are named based on the technical names for their mutations, one of which includes the letters "F" and "L", and another of which includes the letters "R" and "T".

Genome sequencing of March and April showed that Maharashtra has 91 cases of KP.2 -- Pune (51), Thane (20), Amravati (7) Aurangabad (7), Solapur (2), Ahmednagar (1), Nashik (1), Latur (1), and Sangli (1).

"What we see now, is the result of genome sequencing of the last two months, that is March and April. So, there is no cause of concern immediately as out of the 91 cases, not a single death, hospitalisation, or severe disease has been reported," said infectious disease expert Dr Ishwar Gilada.

"Even the test positivity rate is around 1 per cent," he added.

Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, Maharashtra’s genome sequencing coordinator, said that KP.2 has become the predominant COVID strain in the state.

However, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in hospitalisations or severe cases, The Times of India reported.

FLiRT variants come from the lineage of the highly transmissible and immune system-evading Omicron.

First identified globally in January, KP.2 is a descendant of Omicron’s JN.1. According to the data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KP.2 accounted for about one in four or 25 per cent of new sequenced cases in the country in the last weeks of April.

Similar to previous variants, the symptoms typically include a sore throat, runny nose, congestion, tiredness, fever (with or without chills), headache, muscle pain, and sometimes loss of taste or smell.

"COVID has not gone away, but it is not creating any havoc. It does not create any hospitalisation or deaths, and it is much milder than the flu. So, it should not be considered a separate disease. It should be considered like the flu and we can call it Covi-flu," said Dr Gilada, Consultant in Infectious Diseases Unison Medicare and Research Centre, Mumbai.

However, he called for proper whole genome sequencing.

"Though the variant will become prominent in numbers, it is not causing a surge in demand for oxygen, beds, ICUs, or ventilators, and there are also no deaths. “So, I think we should not be worried and concentrate on other emerging health problems," he said.

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