Home Tech Tech News The Current COVID Situation: What to Know About Omicron and its Subvariants English Headline

Tech News The Current COVID Situation: What to Know About Omicron and its Subvariants English Headline

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the US — an average of more than 100,000 per day — thanks to newer versions of the omicron variant, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. In the US, BA.2.12.1 now makes up more than half of COVID-19 cases, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The true number of COVID-19 cases is understood to be much higher, because more people are testing positive for COVID-19 at home, as well as other case-tracking factors. 

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 also rose 24%, according to a May 20 report from the CDC. Deaths decreased about 1% compared with the previous seven-day average, as the US surpasses 1 million lives lost to COVID-19. About 300 people per day are dying from COVID-19, according to the May report. 

Cases are leveling off or decreasing in some states in the Northeast that first experienced an increase this wave, including New York and New Jersey, Johns Hopkins University data shows. Cases in some Midwestern and Southern states are increasing. 

Despite the recent increase in hospitalizations, numbers are still considerably lower than what the US saw during its winter surge, fueled by the “original” BA.1 omicron variant. Since then, newer and more contagious versions of the COVID-19 variant have appeared, including BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. 

Being fully vaccinated with a booster (or two boosters, for some people) remains the best tool for preventing severe disease or hospitalization with COVID-19. The vaccine protection, combined with some natural immunity seen in about 60% of all Americans as of February 2022, may be helping stave off even higher numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Because of the recent surge in cases, the CDC expanded booster eligibility to everyone age 5 and older, meaning children are also now recommended a booster, of a lower-dose, for more protection. 

As the pandemic continues, and the virus that causes COVID-19 mutates, here’s what to know about the newer versions of omicron. 

Omicron, variants and sublineages 

Variants are made up of multiple lineages and sublineages. Each variant has a “parent” lineage, according to the CDC, followed by other lineages, which you can think of like a family tree. As the virus spreads between people, mutations occur, but not all of them change the characteristics of the virus in meaningful ways. 

The omicron variant and its sublineages made the virus much more contagious and capable of infecting more people, but it’s led to less severe disease, on average, than the delta variant

Genomic surveillance can detect variants and sublineages. Scientists in South Africa were able to quickly identify omicron as a new variant this winter because of the way it presents through PCR tests. The original omicron causes a dropped signal or marker on the test that sets it apart from delta, which was the dominant variant prior to omicron. BA.2, however, doesn’t have the same signal, called an S gene target failure. This makes it more stealthy, though genomic sequencing (which happens to about 10% of COVID-19 PCR tests in the US) will detect all omicron subvariants and coronavirus variants in general.

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What are the symptoms of the current COVID variants? 

Data available currently suggests that BA.2 doesn’t cause more severe disease than the original omicron variant, even if it is more transmissible. (The WHO notes that the transmission difference between original omicron and stealth omicron is smaller than the difference between delta and omicron.)

There isn’t research available right now to suggest BA.2 causes different symptoms than the original omicron variant. For many people who catch COVID-19 (especially those who are fully vaccinated or boosted), COVID-19 symptoms resemble cold symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and fatigue. Staying home if you’re sick and not just assuming it’s allergies or a cold if you have mild symptoms is especially important during periods when COVID-19 cases are on the rise. 

Though they’re still recommended for detecting cases of COVID-19 caused by the omicron subvariants, rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are much more likely to give you a false negative result. If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are still experiencing coldlike symptoms despite testing negative on a home test, staying home until your symptoms are gone or getting a PCR test may be a good bet. 

Read more: Is It Allergies or COVID? How to Tell the Difference

Is BA.2.12.1 more severe? Will the vaccines work?

The WHO, considering all available real-world data, concluded there’s no reported difference in severity between omicron BA.1 and BA.2, despite the latter’s growth advantage. 

Between BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, the newer version is believed to be about 25% more transmissible, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing, but more evaluation and research is underway. 

Like the original omicron, BA.2 means more fully vaccinated people will experience breakthrough infections. But those who are fully vaccinated, and especially boosted against COVID-19, “continue to have strong protection against severe disease,” Walensky said at the briefing.  

In a March 8 statement, the WHO said that though there are cases of people getting sick with BA.2 after they’ve already had COVID-19 caused by omicron, early data suggests that infection with BA.1 provides “substantial protection” against BA.2, at least for a while. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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