A new subvariant of Omicron is expected to soon become the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the United States. BA.2.12.1 is currently responsible for 42.6% of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a sharp increase from the 7.5% of cases he was responsible for in early April.
This is a subvariant that public health officials are monitoring and trying to learn more about. “Additional evaluation is currently underway to understand the impact of BA.2.12.1 on vaccine efficacy,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing late last month. . “Most importantly, we continue to believe that those who are vaccinated, and especially those who are boosted, continue to have strong protection against serious disease, even against BA.2.12.1.”
The increase to BA.2.12.1 comes shortly after the end of most mask mandates across the country, including on public transport. With that, you probably have questions about what this variant is and how much you should be concerned. Here’s what you need to know.
What is BA.2.12.1?
BA.2.12.1 is a subvariant of the Omicron BA.2 variant, aka “Stealth Omicron,” says William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “You can consider him a son or a daughter of Omicron,” he said. “They are really very similar.”
But BA.2.12.1 has drawn a lot of attention for its contagion. “This is the most transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2 described,” says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. (SARS-CoV-2, in case you don’t know, is the virus that causes COVID-19.)
BA.2.12.1 has certain mutations in its spike protein that make it more infectious, says Dr. Schaffner.
Why is BA.2.12.1 increasing in the United States?
According to Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, there are several different reasons for the increase in BA.2.12.1 in the United States. One is how contagious it is, he says.
“The original Omicron – BA.1 – was more contagious than previous variants,” says Dr Russo. “BA.2 was felt to be approximately 30% more infectious than BA.1 and BA.2.12.1 is considered to be 30% more infectious than BA.2.”
The rapid spread of BA.2.12.1 also coincides with loosened restrictions everywhere, says Dr Russo. “It’s really the two that are causing it to spread,” he says.
There’s also the simple fact that BA.2.12.1 beats other variants to make people sick, says Dr. Adalja. “It increases on simple Darwinian principles – it transmits more efficiently and outperforms other SARS-CoV-2 lineages,” he says.
What are the symptoms of BA.2.12.1?
Doctors and public health officials are still learning more about BA.2.12.1 but, for now, Dr. Schaffner says it is thought to cause the same symptoms as other forms of COVID-19 . These include, according to the CDC:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body pain
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
“It doesn’t appear to be more serious than other forms of COVID-19,” says Dr. Schaffner. “And, very importantly, our vaccines, according to laboratory studies, seem to provide fairly good coverage against this subvariant, but you have to get the third dose.”
How much should I worry BA.2.12.1?
Dr Adalja says the rise of BA.2.12.1 is “fully expected”, adding that “the virus will continue to evolve to become more and more transmissible”. This means that more highly infectious variants should follow.
While this variant should be a concern for everyone, Dr. Russo says the people who should be most affected are those considered to be at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
“Get your booster, if you’re eligible,” says Dr. Russo. “And if you are considered high risk, be careful. Few people are wearing face masks right now. You should consider masking up to protect yourself as we have a high community burden of disease. »
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