Although Omicron has long been the predominant COVID-19 variant in the United States, it has produced a number of subvariants that have led to an increase in cases. The Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 (Stealth Omicron), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), used to be the predominant COVID-19 strain found in the United States. However, two new subvariants—BA.4 and BA.5—are now being closely monitored by infectious disease specialists.
According to federal estimates, the fast proliferating COVID-19 subvariant BA.5 has taken over as the main variant, accounting for roughly 54% of new cases in the US, while the BA.4 subvariant accounts for roughly 16% of recent instances. Additionally, research from The New York Times from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering reveals that during the past two weeks, cases of Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have increased in Europe by 70%.
Omicron subvariants are not novel, but historically, the emergence of a new subvariant, let alone two subvariants, seems to be correlated with an increase in COVID-19 cases.
What you need to know about Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 is provided below, along with information on the symptoms, when the dominant subvariants first arose, and how concerned you should be.
What are symptoms of BA.4 and BA.5?
According to Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, the symptoms of COVID-19 have generally remained stable, and BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to differ significantly from other Omicron symptoms. Additionally, he continues, “they don’t appear to induce any more or less severe disease than prior iterations of Omicron.”
According to a CDC study released in December, Omicron patients typically experience the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
According to the CDC, the following are the most typical COVID-19 symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
BA.4 and BA.5 outdoor transmission risk.
According to Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and director of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo in New York, you can catch BA.5 outside, but you can also catch other COVID-19 types outside. He claims that being outside has never been entirely safe. “There is no doubt that you have a lot lower chance of contracting an infection outside than you do inside. However, you still run the danger of contracting an infection if you spend an extended period of time in close proximity to another person.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 primarily spreads through inhaling droplets from an infected individual. The CDC still advises wearing a properly fitted mask when you are ill or among sick people. The CDC generally advises against wearing masks outside.
Where are the origins of BA.4 and BA.5?
According to the World Health Organization, BA.4 and BA.5 have been found in numerous countries in Southern Africa and Europe, though their origin is still unclear (WHO).
According to Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, the variants have been identified in a number of nations, including Botswana, South Africa, Germany, and Denmark.
Are the new subvariants found in tests?
According to William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease expert and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 19 tests can find the new variations.
One thing to keep in mind, according to Dr. Russo: Unlike BA.2, which has genetic characteristics that made it more challenging to identify as Omicron during PCR tests, BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to share these characteristics.
If you’re in a BA.2-dominant area, that’s a quick and dirty way to determine whether BA.4 and BA.5 are circulating, he says.
Additionally, scientists think the overall number of new infections is far higher than we even realize because home testing has grown in popularity and accessibility.
What distinguishes these subvariants from BA.2.12.1?
According to studies from South Africa, the previous outbreak of BA.4 and BA.5 variants there did not result in any more severe sickness than the initial Omicron wave, but they are substantially more contagious, according to new research published in the journal Nature. According to the study, compared to BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 are four times more resistant to antibodies produced by three vaccine doses.
Due to mutations, BA.4 and BA.5 differ slightly from BA.2.12.1. There is a trend here, according to Dr. Schaffner. “We had Omicron, and there were Omicron mutations that were just as contagious as Omicron, if not more so. It’s a developing narrative.
According to Dr. Russo, BA.4 and BA.5 “are more closely connected to BA.2 and its subvariants than to BA.1.” According to Dr. Russo, BA.4 and BA.5 have an amino acid alteration that the Delta variation did not. This has led to some speculation that if you had a Delta infection, it might have helped you with BA.4 and BA.5, he explains.
What steps can people take to safeguard themselves?
Dr. Russo advises using “the typical” preventative measures. If you haven’t already, you should get vaccinated against COVID-19 and make sure your booster shots are current.
In a recent statement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reassured the American public that any COVID-19 vaccine authorized or approved by the FDA satisfies the standards for safety and efficacy. The FDA continues to promote receiving booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. To help address the contagious subvariants, manufacturers are currently updating their vaccines to include an omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein component, which is anticipated to be available in mid-fall 2022.
He claims that although vaccine-induced immunity “seems imperfect at preventing infection, it looks like it will do a good job at keeping people out of the hospital with severe disease.”
He also advises wearing a “high-quality, well-fitting mask” inside if you are thought to be at a high risk for COVID-19 complications.
Overall, according to experts, public health officials are monitoring BA.4 and BA.5. We in public health are keeping an eye on these variants, according to Dr. Schaffner.