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FLiRT” COVID-19 Subvariant Emerges as Predominant Strain in Canada: Key Insights on the Variant

Canada’s relative tranquility in COVID-19 cases faces potential turbulence with the emergence of a novel family of subvariants, affectionately termed the ‘FLiRT’ variants.

These genetic offshoots, stemming from JN.1, the Omicron subvariant that fueled the winter surge, are now proliferating nationwide, with one variant, KP.2, swiftly gaining ascendancy in Canada.

KP.2, elucidated Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., constitutes the primary subvariant of the JN.1 strain. As per data as of April 28, national statistics indicate that KP.2 accounted for 26.6 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Canada, surpassing other JN.1 subvariants.

“The nomenclature KP.2 really confuses people,” Evans conveyed to Global News. “But it’s simply a continued evolution of what we’ve been witnessing since the onset of this year, which is the JN.1 lineage.”

These subvariants, including KP.1 and KP.3, amalgamate to form what is recognized as the FLiRT variants, Evans elucidated.

The moniker FLiRT mutations stems from scientific distinctions, wherein the amino acid phenylalanine (F) replaces leucine (L), and arginine (R) is substituted by threonine (T), with the addition of ‘I’ to confer coherence to the term, Evans delineated.

KP.2: A Descendant Lineage

As disclosed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the KP.2 subvariant commenced global circulation in January. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, elucidated that KP.2, a descendant lineage of JN.1, exhibits additional mutations in the spike protein, highlighting its evolutionary trajectory.

In Canada, the emergence of KP.2 was initially noted in February, clarified Evans, attributing the nomenclature “KP.2” to the assignment of a new prefix when a variant accumulates more than three digits in its designation.

Potential Contagiousness and Vaccine Efficacy

Despite the current low levels of COVID-19 across Canada, concerns arise over the mutation’s potential to evade immunity, potentially heralding a surge in cases. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, underscores the importance of monitoring the situation closely, given the variant’s ability to circumvent existing immunity.

While the FLiRT variants may present challenges in evading immunity, the efficacy of current vaccines against these subvariants remains reassuring. Evans suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine, despite targeting the XBB 1.5 Omicron subvariant, is expected to confer protection against the FLiRT variants.

However, considering the likelihood of another surge in the fall and winter months, authorities recommend a spring booster for individuals aged 65 and above and those who are immunocompromised.

As the virus continues to mutate, ongoing vigilance and adaptability in vaccination strategies remain paramount in mitigating the impact of emerging subvariants like FLiRT in Canada’s battle against COVID-19.

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