The emergence of new COVID variants globally can help predict surges in the US

A new variant could emerge anywhere in the world.
A new variant could emerge anywhere in the world. Photo credit Getty Images
By , KCBS Radio

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – As surges of COVID-19 continue throughout the United States, health experts are working to better track when the next spike in cases will come.

In the past data of surges in other parts of the world sometimes helped predict surges in the U.S, and with the new variants constantly emerging, this method is still helpful.

"The worldwide, global search for variants and to look at their behavior locally is very helpful," said Dr. Robert Siegel, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University on KCBS Radio's "Ask an Expert" on Tuesday. "Because it provides us with an opportunity to see what might happen here."

"I think a lot of what happens in an individual place is mediated by our behavior," he told Holly Quan and Jason Brooks. "Whether we’re opened up, whether we’re gathering, things like that."

Essentially, while it is helpful to study how the virus spreads in other locations, it’s also important to pay attention to how it spreads locally.

"The most useful thing about the global surveillance is to find out what may be out there," he said. "What may be in store for us."

A lot of the original omicron variants first emerged in South Africa, but it's still possible for a completely new variant to crop anywhere else in the world.

Tracking COVID-19 variants and new surges has been made more complicated as fewer places tally up case rates as much as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. That, combined with the increase in home testing has created a somewhat fuzzier picture.

"I think home testing is great, but I do think it would be useful to have some idea of how much spread there is in the community," said Siegel.

There are other methods of monitoring that, such as examining wastewater or random surveillance.

It's far more likely now than earlier in the pandemic that a new variant will spread more quickly, as more and more people are traveling.

But right now, the more pressing concern is a "homegrown variant," said Siegel. "It's a variant of BA.2, but it's really beginning to take over the entire country."

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