How worried should we be about the new FLiRT and LB.1 Covid variants?

Festival season has created the perfect breeding ground for new Covid variants, say health experts.

Suffering with muscle aches, fatigue and a sore throat?
Woman with flu resting in bed Suffering with muscle aches, fatigue and a sore throat? (Alamy Stock Photo)

Many of us know a friend or family member who has come down with nasty cold-like symptoms over the last few weeks, and talk about the resurgence of Covid has started circulating.

New variants such as FLiRT and LB.1 have started to spread across the UK this summer – but what does this mean and how worried should we be?

What are the new Covid variants and how are they spreading?

Summertime is packed with opportunities to socialise and gather with hordes of people at crowded places such as festivals, and these events provide the perfect environment for viruses to spread.

“Increased travel and big events such as festivals often result in crowded settings where the virus can spread more easily, and there is no longer any legal restrictions like wearing masks, social distancing,” says Dr Mariyam Malik, an NHS and private GP at Pall Mall Medical.

Crowded events like Glastonbury are the perfect breeding grounds for Covid
Crowded events like Glastonbury are the perfect breeding grounds for Covid (Alamy Stock Photo)

Some health experts have also suggested that two new Covid variants, FLiRT and LB.1, might be able evade immunity, which is why people who have been vaccinated are still getting ill.

“The FLiRT variant has specific changes in its spike protein that might make it spread more easily and dodge immunity from past infections or vaccines,” says Malik. “Similarly, the LB.1 variant has mutations that help it spread and possibly weaken the protection we get from previous immunity, making these variants different from earlier versions of the virus.

“New variants come about because the virus naturally changes over time,” adds the GP. “When lots of people get infected, the virus has more chances to mutate. Also, our immune responses from past infections or vaccines can push the virus to evolve.”

What symptoms should people look out for?

If you have been suffering with a stubborn cough or sore throat recently that just won’t go away, you may have caught one of these new strains of Covid.

A bad cough is a symptoms of the new variants of Covid
A bad cough is a symptoms of the new variants of Covid (Alamy Stock Photo)

“The symptoms of the FLiRT and LB.1 variants are generally like those of earlier Covid-19 strains,” says Malik. “Common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, muscle or body aches, shortness of breath, headache, and a runny nose.

“People infected with the FLiRT and LB.1 variants do typically test positive on standard PCR tests,” Malik adds. “Rapid antigen tests also known as lateral flow tests can also detect these variants, though their sensitivity might vary.”

What are the treatment options?

Doctors generally recommend self isolating and using over-the-counter treatments if you are experiencing these symptoms.

“It is best to try to self-isolate, rest and stay hydrated,” advises Malik. “Use over-the-counter medications for symptom relief, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, and monitor your symptoms closely, seeking medical help if they worsen.”

How can I prevent my family from getting the new variants?

“To prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is crucial to stay up to date with vaccinations and boosters,” says Malik. “Regular hand-washing helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Keep ontop of your Covid vaccine jabs
Keep ontop of your Covid vaccine jabs (Alamy Stock Photo)

“Regular testing and isolating if you develop any symptoms or test positive can also help control the spread of the virus,” adds the GP.

When should I see my GP?

“For mild symptoms, rest and home treatment are usually sufficient, and there is generally no need to visit your GP,” says Malik. “However, it is essential to seek medical attention if experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or a persistent high fever.

“Individuals with underlying health conditions should contact their GP if they test positive or develop symptoms, as they may be at higher risk for severe illness.”