Fall COVID types are surprisingly related and strong for the following two reasons

Fears of a new “super-species” from Omicron were real and developing earlier this year.
A researcher in Cyprus discovered a COVID-19 variant that possessed properties of both the lethal Delta and the highly transmissible, immune-evasive Omicron versions. The new variation, dubbed “Deltacron,” was something of a “Frankenstein virus” that blended the two strains.

Deltacron was unable to take flight and quickly vanished. Later, a second Delta-Omicron hybrid appeared and then vanished.

However, the underlying phenomenon is expected to manifest this fall. From October through January, scientists anticipate a major influx of COVID cases, spurred by many Omicron offshoots that are increasingly similar to each other and to previous strains of the disease.

They are anticipated to be the most transmissible and immune-evasive strains of the virus to yet. Their similarity can be a boon or a bane: it might make them easier to combat or more difficult to control.

As Omicron matures, it “rediscovers solutions previously used” in varieties such as Alpha, Gamma, and Delta, “while bringing some new things with its ancestry,” according to Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at the Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine.

He stated, “This is a fascinating aspect of development.” The same fabric remnants are being utilized to create a new quilt.

Diverse routes, same destination

Dr. Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas, told Fortune that while a single wave of COVID may be powered by numerous variants — as many as five or more – the differences between them may be tiny.

In convergent evolution, a type of parallel evolution, variations acquire similar sets of respective mutations. In other words, numerous strains of the same virus will acquire identical modifications, such as those that allow them to bypass immunity and disseminate the virus more easily, as Rajnarayanan explained.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), told Fortune that the wave of globally dominating BA.5 is beginning to ebb in many regions, but its spin-offs are acquiring mutations that promote immune evasion.

“We’ve never seen this form of immune evasion before,” he added, referring to the variations’ increased capacity to avoid the immune system and instruments designed to strengthen it, such as vaccines and therapies.

Similarly, COVID strains mutate by a mechanism known as recombination, just as the so-called Deltacron strain did. In this case, two varieties converge into a single form. According to Rajnarayanan, the most immune-evasive COVID strain observed to date is the new variety XBB, which is a fusion of two distinct Omicron offspring.

In contrast to the original Deltacron, which was only identified in a single lab, indicating that it may have been the result of lab contamination, XBB is found globally in places such as Bangladesh, Israel, Singapore, Germany, and Denmark, he said.

Will this fall’s Omicron crossbreeding result in the emergence of a “super virus”?

It is impossible to know, according to specialists. However, Omicron may soon reach a “local fitness peak,” indicating that the variety, despite continuing to evolve fast, may soon be no more capable of propagating or evading the human immune system than its ancestors.

Fall COVID types are surprisingly related and strong for the following two reasons

“I wonder if there are any other alternatives,” Ray added regarding Omicron. It does not mean that its spread has reached its maximum, but it may limit it.

A new rival this season?

If Omicron’s performance peaks, it might open the way for a new variation like Delta, which came in the US in 2021, and Omicron a few months later.

Ray claimed there may be a Pi with new answers, similar to Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron. If the virus runs out of favorable modifications, a new variation could modify our calculus.

“It’s been a while since a significant left-field variety,” he said. I think it’s likely this winter. Nobody can forecast it.”

Osterholm agrees that Pi or Sigma might appear.

“None of us know,” he replied. “We must be humble and admit we don’t know what’s next.”

“We may be seeing a soft landing,'” a slow decline in instances, he added.

Osterholm sees no evidence that COVID is becoming a seasonal virus like the flu, as some White House officials have indicated.

He calls the virus “a three-act play.”

“Act two is just beginning,” he remarked. “That’s it.”

Fortune.com published this story.

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