What You Need to Know About the BA.5 COVID Variant

July 15, 2022
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BA.5 Omicron

Another subvariant is here, and some reports say it might be the worst variant yet. The BA 5 COVID variant is another subvariant to Omicron that’s caused an influx of infections around the world. 

According to the latest COVID tracker data from the CDC, the BA 5 COVID variant has risen to the top. In this week alone, it has been responsible for more than 65% of infections in the United States. That’s more than triple the next most prevalent subvariant, BA.2.12.1, which accounts for 17% of infections.

“There’s limited information about the clinical severity of the BA.4 and BA.5 variant in comparison to our other Omicron sub-variants,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a Covid-19 Response Team briefing with NBC News

“What we do know is that it is more transmissible and more immune-evading. People with prior infection, even with BA.1 and BA.2, are likely still at risk to transmit BA.4 or BA.5.” 

Why is the BA 5 COVID variant more dangerous than the others?

BODY IMAGE 2 BA.5 omicron min

Compared to other sub-variants of Omicron, BA.5 is reportedly better in evading COVID antibodies. This is the case whether it’s from a previous COVID-19 infection or antibodies acquired from vaccines. 

In fact, Dr. George Rutherford of UCSF said in an interview with ABC7 News that immunity could wane in as early as 28 days. 

“If you were infected at the beginning of the summer, nothing is saying you can’t be infected again today with one of these newer variants.” 

“You can be infected with more than one virus at the same time for any disease. So getting infected with both strains is possible, but I expect it’s a pretty rare occurrence.”

Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, had this to say about the BA.5 COVID variant in one of his recent blog posts:

“You may remember the term ‘Deltacron’ prematurely used many months ago in the pandemic, but the ability to infect cells for BA.5 is more akin to Delta than the previous Omicron family of variants.” 

He also added: “There are more copies of the virus because BA.5 has a better ability to get into cells. This may help explain why this version of the virus has caused a lot of trouble.” 

Topol’s reference to the BA.5’s ability to generate more copies of itself was taken from a study done in Australia.  

Does the BA.5 COVID variant have similar symptoms to other Omicron sub-variants?

The BA.5 variant is nothing new. It’s been detected since February but wasn’t seen as a threat compared to its other sub-variants. “It is very hard to distinguish one variant from the other based on symptoms alone,” Dr. Irfan Hafiz, chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, told Verywell

One report from the L.A. Times said that symptoms are similar but more intense. These include:

  • Raging sore throat
  • Fatigue that can last weeks
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough   
  • Meningitis (rare)

Experts urge individuals to get vaccinated now more than ever 

Even if some individuals have managed to evade COVID-19 since it was first detected two years ago, multiple experts told Insider that their luck may finally run out. 

“If you’ve escaped the virus for 2.5 years, it’s gonna be hard to escape this one,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, infectious disease physician from the University of Michigan.

“You cannot avoid a respiratory virus like this forever unless you completely cease interaction with all other human beings,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

In California alone, weekly reinfections have tripled from 2,300 from March to early May, to 10,400 from mid-May to June. 

“With more cases, we’re obviously seeing more people needing medical attention. And this isn’t the case for just hospitals but also at our emergency departments and urgent care centers that are filled with many folks needing care for their COVID-related illness,” said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health Director to the L.A. Times.

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates have increased recently, severe infections have been rare, especially for the fully vaccinated. 

Final thoughts

With another COVID-19 variant emerging, now is not the time to let your guard down. If you or someone you know starts to experience any of its symptoms, stay at home and get tested immediately. Free COVID-19 testing kits can be delivered straight to your home with a click of a button.

To continue to try and stop the spread of the disease, experts urge everyone to do the following:

  • Stay up to date on vaccinations and boosters 
  • Get tested before attending social gatherings
  • Continue to wear masks in both indoor and outdoor public settings
  • Practice safe hygiene i.e. sanitize your hands, disinfect high-touch surfaces, etc.

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