New FLuQE COVID Variant Spreading Rapidly: What Makes It Unique?

New FLuQE COVID Variant Spreading Rapidly: What Makes It Unique?

A new COVID-19 strain may be contributing to more infection this winter in Australia. The KP.3, otherwise known as “FLuQE”, is a subvariant of the FLiRT strain but contains a mutation that has made it easier to spread.

FLiRT is just one strain of the infection responsible for the global Pandemic in 2020, it’s a family of subvariants that quickly became dominant because they were highly transmissible. Within the group were several similar variants that start with the KP, with KP.2 being the most prevalent of the bunch and responsible for recent waves of COVID across the world.

Now, not long after its predecessor emerged, a new subvariant – KP.3 – has appeared on the world stage, and is spreading across Australia, the US, and elsewhere.

What’s new?

KP.3 has been so successful, from the virus’s perspective, that it has gained its own designation – FluQE. This is because it has an additional spike protein mutation that seems to make it better at binding to our cellular receptors. This may be why it appears to be spreading quicker. It is also believed that this subvariant is better at avoiding our immune system, which means our existing vaccines and treatment options may be less effective at preventing their spread.

As with other FLiRT variants, KP.3 is a descendant of the JN.1 variant, which caused infections across the world around six months ago.

Paul Griffin, an infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist at the University of Queensland, says this is an example of how quickly the virus can evolve.  

“What this virus has done many times, and continues to do, is that it’s changed significantly,” Griffin told ABC News. Certainly in our country, FLuQE, or KP.3, has passed FLiRT, or KP.2.”

While the FLiRT and FluQE variants have been spreading far quicker, this does not mean they are more lethal. Nor does it mean that vaccinations are unnecessary. However, the virus’s quick mutation rate does mean that every new variant emerges, it causes our protections to fall behind slightly.

So even if you were recently vaccinated against FLiRT, you are still at risk of reinfection from FLuQE. At the same time, the world has become more complacent over the threat of COVID since we all left lockdown. As such, less is being done to curb its transmission.

This means people should continue to get their COVID booster shots when they can as they are still valuable for reducing severe symptoms. In the meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending the development of vaccines that target JN.1 so that we are better prepared for its variants. 

These will likely be available towards the end of 2024.

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