More contagious, evasive ‘Centaurus’ in PH, says DOH

Department of Health building with superimpose logo. STORY: More contagious, evasive ‘Centaurus’ in PH, says DOH

MANILA, Philippines — Another emerging Omicron subvariant, given the moniker “Centaurus” in social and mainstream media, has found its way into the country with two individuals in Central Visayas testing positive for the virus, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on Tuesday.

Officially named BA.2.75 by the World Health Organization (WHO), it is believed to be more contagious and capable of dodging immune defenses provided by COVID-19 vaccines.

Officer in charge Maria Rosario Vergeire of the Department of Health (DOH) said in a media forum that the infected individuals in the Visayas were the first two confirmed cases of BA.2.75, according to the results of the genome sequencing run from July 30 to Aug. 1.

One of them was unvaccinated, while the other got only one shot of a COVID-19 jab, the health undersecretary said.

Although both have already recovered, Vergeire said their exposure and travel histories were still being verified.

“Based on studies, this is more transmissible and more immune evasive than BA.5. But there is no evidence saying that it can cause more severe infections,” Vergeire told reporters.

Social media roots

First detected in India in July, BA.2.75 is a new sublineage of the Omicron strain, which has been blamed for multiple rounds of COVID-19 surges globally this year. The WHO has classified BA.2.75 as “Omicron subvariants under monitoring,” along with BA.5, BA.4, and BA.2.12.1.

The nickname Centaurus, a constellation in astronomy and a creature in Greek mythology that is half horse and half human, was traced to a certain Twitter user named Xabier Ostale, who tweets about COVID-19—and lately about monkeypox—and how to stay safe. In a post last month, Ostale said he was fed up with the Greek alphabet system used by the WHO, and that he would name BA.2.75 after the galaxy Centaurus. This caught on in social media and traditional media such as Forbes and Fortune magazines and The Guardian newspaper started using the term in reporting on the BA.2.75 subvariant.

It has since been detected in more than a dozen other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Canada.

Both the WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have designated it a “variant under monitoring,” indicating that it could be more transmissible, although the evidence that it could lead to more severe disease is reportedly currently weak.

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