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New COVID variant could cause a rise in cases in MN: What you need to know

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MINNESOTA β€” The new KP.2 variant nicknamed FLiRT could cause a surge in COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and across the country this summer, disease experts warn.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday shows the KP.2 variant accounting for 28 percent of new COVID infections between April 14 and 27, up from just 6 percent.

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The variants collectively known as FLiRT include KP.2 and another variant, KP.1.1, both of which are descendants of JN.1. They share the same mutation: changes in the spike protein that allow the virus to colonize in the body and make people sick

In the Midwest, the KP.2 variant was responsible for 9.2 percent of COVID cases between April 27 and May 5.

The nickname FLiRT refers to the technical names of the mutations, F4561 and R346T, and is part of the Omicron line of SARS-CoV-2.

The CDC said there is no evidence that people will get sicker with KP.2 than with other strains. The KP.2 variant overtook JN.1 as the dominant species. The symptoms are similar, although the CDC warned they can vary from person to person and may change with new variants.

Laboratory research from Japan, which has not yet been peer-reviewed and published as a preprint, suggests the mutations may be able to evade vaccines.

β€œIt looks like those extra mutations make it immune evasive, so it’s no surprise that it would then dominate,” Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told NBC. News.

According to the research from Japan, the KP.2 variant may be less efficient at infecting cells than its predecessors. Current vaccines should provide some protection against KP.2, according to experts.

However, vaccination coverage is declining nationwide, with only 22.6 percent of U.S. adults currently protected by the updated 2023-2024 COVID vaccine that rolled out in September 2023, according to CDC data. Vaccine protection increased by age group, with the highest coverage among adults aged 75 and over.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 hit record lows in April, and the CDC no longer requires hospitals to report admission numbers. Experts say that while serious cases requiring hospitalization could increase this summer, as they have every summer since the pandemic began in 2020, the increase won’t be nearly as dramatic.

The CDC updated its COVID-19 guidelines in March, ending the recommendation that people who test positive for the virus isolate for five days. However, the agency still recommends that people take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID or other common respiratory illnesses, including staying home when sick, staying up to date on vaccines and washing their hands properly.