BA.5 Variant COVID-19 | University of Utah Health

Jul 29, 2022 11:00 AM

Information in Spanish

The Omicron wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not over. And the newest variant may be the most contagious strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to date. The BA.5 subvariant is now the predominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, spreading rapidly and leading to new infections. BA.5 is a sub-variant of the first Omicron strain, also known as BA.1. As scientists continue to learn more about the new variant, here is what is known:

BA.5 is highly transmissible

According to Centers for Disease and Infection Control (CDC), Omicron spreads more easily than previous variants of COVID-19. And because BA.5 is a sub-variant of Omicron, it turns out to be more transmissible. The virus has become more effective at evading the immune system, leading to an increase in COVID-19 infections.

BA.5 escapes immunity

Breakthrough infections are becoming more common as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to evolve and mutate. This is especially true with BA.5. “Each of these subvariants has improved over the previous one at infecting vaccinated or previously infected people,” says Stephen Goldstein, PhD, a virologist at the University of Utah’s Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. Those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or who have recently been infected with another recent variant are at risk of being infected with BA.5.

The good news is that vaccinations and boosters still protect you against serious diseases. “It’s really important for people to understand that vaccines aren’t likely to provide long-term protection against infection, but they greatly increase the likelihood that your illness will be short and not severe,” Goldstein says.

If so, why can you still get re-infected with BA.5? After receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or becoming infected with the virus, Goldstein says, your immune system has built many layers, including antibodies and memory T cells that target the virus. If introduced into a different variant of COVID-19, these antibodies also fail to recognize the new variant because the virus has acquired mutations and looks different. This makes it harder for the immune system to quickly recognize and block the new variant of the virus. After infection, the immune system launches another line of defence: memory T cells. Research has shown that these late-acting T cells remained effective against newer variants and still provide protection against serious disease.

Symptoms of BA.5 are similar to previous variants of COVID-19

Currently, the symptoms of BA.5 appear to be similar to those caused by other Omicron subvariants. Common symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. However, Goldstein notes that symptoms of COVID-19 appear less severe overall than previous variants, such as Delta. This is partly because more people have been vaccinated or infected with the COVID-19 virus.

COVID-19 vaccines work against BA.5

COVID-19 vaccines continue to protect people from developing severe disease, especially for those who receive a booster dose. A COVID-19 booster shot helps maximize your protection. Vaccines also help prevent hospitalizations and deaths, with lower rates for BA.5 compared to previous variants of COVID-19.

“There’s definitely a really good reason to keep up to date with vaccines — to get boosted and vaccinated,” Goldstein says.

Due to the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended vaccine manufacturers to update their COVID-19 vaccines from fall 2022 to protect against the Omicron variant. “If BA.5 is still the dominant variant in the fall, then it’s going to be a really good match,” Goldstein said. The annual COVID-19 vaccine update would be similar to the current practice of annual flu vaccine updates.

Wearing a mask adds more protection

Immunocompromised or high-risk individuals should continue to wear a good, high quality mask when you are indoors or gathering with a large group of people.

The CDC also recommends wearing a mask indoors in public if COVID-19 community level where you live is medium Where high.

“I think we all know people who have been infected — whether they’ve been vaccinated or they’ve been infected before — and now they’re infected again,” Goldstein says. “If you want to minimize your chances of getting infected with the virus, the best protection is a high-quality COVID-19 vaccine, booster, and mask.”

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