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COVID Update May 17, 2023: New Variant- FL.1.3, Insights from Google Trends, New Cases Continue Increasing in the U.K. and Other News
We are once again reminded that COVID continues to evolve at a rapid pace all around the world. The science and data continue to show that it isn’t evolving to become less dangerous. It is getting better at evading and suppressing the immune response so that it can persist throughout the body and the brain. Its survival strategy is to persist in the body, wait for another variant to infect the same person, make babies that are more capable at evading treatments and the immune system and then spread to more people. There isn’t a shortage of people to infect so there is no reason it can’t keep evolving to defeat the immune system. We don’t know for sure if it will kill people more quickly or just more slowly but we can see that every infection is increasing the risks for humans.
FL.1.3 has mutations in Orf1a and Orf1b, which may make it more likely to evade or infect T-cells, the last line of defense. Evading is better than infecting but either way it is bad news for human longevity. The graphs and estimated growth advantage are from very early data so we can’t say if FL.1.3 will sustain at this pace but it is something people should be aware of.
FL.1.3 does not stand for Florida. It stands for a new variant so far removed from XBB.1.9 it was designated with its own letters. With that said, the highlighted info below was sequenced in Florida. We can also see that cases of this variant have also been sequenced in California, Nevada, Texas, Michigan and Switzerland. The rate of its spread is alarming but more alarming is why it is able to spread at such a fast pace.
We will continue monitoring this variant and share new data as it becomes available.
Insights from Google Trends
Google trends can be a useful tool to get a sense of what people are experiencing. When comparing searches for Flu, COVID, Gastroenteritis, Pneumonia and Pinkeye, we found that COVID has been the biggest concern around the world, however two countries, Germany and Taiwan, stand out as places where the majority of searches were for Gastroenteritis. GI symptoms have been increasing with some of the XBB variants so it may be that people don’t realize they have COVID or that this was one of the symptoms of COVID. It may be that another virus is causing these issues and it is more prevalent than COVID in these countries. If anyone has more insight into why these countries show more people searching for gastrointestinal than COVID, please share in the comments.
Google Trends in Australia
Looking at the searches in Australia below, we can see that COVID is the most searched term. In the graph below that one, we see that over the past 90 days, people searching for COVID has steadily increased. Clearly COVID is on the minds of people and that is likely because more people are becoming infected.
The google trends graph below shows the areas in Australia where more people are searching for COVID symptoms.
We compared searches for COVID symptoms and Pink Eye over the past 90 days. Interestingly, we can see that towards the end the searches started syncing up. This is most likely due to the fact that XBB.1.16 and other variants of similar binding ability are becoming more dominant. These variants are able to infect peoples eyes more easily so they are having the symptoms of COVID and/or pink eye.
We have been monitoring Singapore because they have reported cases of the XBB.1.16 and XBB.2.3 sub-variants well ahead of most countries so they can help show us what to expect. They are showing a leveling off of cases but hospitalizations continue to increase in week 18. The good news is that less children are hospitalized this week.
U.S. Respiratory Illness by Age Group
COVID will continue to evolve but we must take note of where the mutations are occurring. Like XBB.1.16, we see more mutations in the body of the virus providing new advantages to the XBB family which already effectively evaded antibodies.
The natural path to gain such advantages over the predecessors is to evade or infect T-cells. Any new variants with large advantages will increase the odds of persistent infections. COVID can already infect the brain, cross the placenta, and impact every organ system, so greater advantages increase the odds of long term impacts to not only the health of pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised but also to children, teens, young adults & middle aged adults, the economy, productivity and all of society.
The U.S. has seen the population growth stall and actually decline a little as life expectancy shortens. The excess deaths of adults from 18 to 64 years old continue to be nearly 10% above the pre-pandemic average.
COVID is Predictable. COVID is Preventable.
Previously we pointed out that the U.K. cases declined in April due to the two week spring break that allowed children to clear the virus and reset the exponential growth in between schools and homes. We also predicted that exponential growth would resume and that cases would increase until schools are out for the summer break. We can see from the graph below that cases continue to increase in the U.K., with 86,128 symptomatic cases as of May 15, 2023, according to Zoe. Upgrading air filtration and ventilation is the single most important thing society can do to ensure the health and safety for not only school children, teachers and parents but everyone in all of society.
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