A new variant of Covid-19, nicknamed Pirola, was first detected in France at the end of August. What is special about this version of the virus? Should we especially fear him? Professor Denis Malvy, an infectious disease specialist at Bordeaux University Hospital, offers us some answers.
A new version of the Covid-19 arrives in France on the occasion of the start of the school year. Named “Pirola”, this sub-variant of Omicron was first observed in France, in the Grand Est region. Closely watched by the World Health Organization (WHO), Pirola was already present in the United States, Denmark and Israel.
Professor Denis Malvy, specialist in infectious diseases at Bordeaux University Hospital and member of the Health Risk Surveillance and Anticipation Committee (Covars), answers some questions about this virus.
What is special about Pirola?
It is not a newcomer: it has been observed for many weeks and receives very special attention.
Pirola is a subvariant of Omicron, the very active variant in the spring of 2022, and which has an originality: compared to the previous ones, it is capable of suffering more mutations in the Spike gene, present in the protein that forms the bristles. virus envelope. Would that make it more transmittable? Definitely. We are talking about thirty different mutations, it is disconcerting.
Should we particularly fear him?
The virus, in its EG5 form, circulated a lot this summer – through the summer gatherings in Arcachon or the fairs in Bayonne – without having a significant impact on our health system. It circulates quietly but expects to reappear during these large gatherings.
But the EG5 variant risks being quickly replaced by another, Pirola for example. The virus mutates to evade the human immune system, it mutates in the direction of transmission, and that’s how it survives. This cat and mouse game is called immune escape.
Today, several months ago we moved away from the vaccination periods, the population is less immunized. (…) In autumn a new campaign should be organized. So the current vaccine is still effective against Pirola, but it would be a matter of adapting it, of anticipating the next variants. Viruses are always one step ahead of us!
Is the mutation of Covid-19 endless?
You have to understand that we will have to live permanently with Covid-19, it will never leave us. We are currently in an intermediate phase. We have left the pandemic – where the virus circulates in an anarchic way – but we have not yet reached the endemic stage, that is, the stage in which our immune system adapts to the virus that then circulates seasonally.
One day our immunity level will be high enough to prevent clusters of cases, groups, outside of winter – the season when we tend to congregate indoors and the virus likes cold – and that we only experience sporadic cases. Hence the importance of continuing research to understand viral dynamics and always anticipate and delay the appearance of mutations. As Victor Hugo said in The Miserables“we must be astonished at the catastrophe for the little fright it causes us.“
Special precautions to avoid contamination with Pirola?
The recommendations remain the same: barrier gestures, self-exams, and self-isolation if you feel symptoms. We complete with the use of the mask in care establishments and in contact with fragile people. And when you’re a fragile person, you don’t go to the Bayonne parties! Or hidden, if really necessary.