Is the Omicron Variant Dangerous or Not Dangerous?
As of the week ending September 17, 2022, BA.5 represent an estimated 84.8% of the SARS-CoV-2 variants currently circulating in the United States, according to the CDC. The BA.4.6 Omicron subvariant is the second most prevalent with 10.3% of cases originating from the pathogen.
Data suggest that these lineages could be more transmissible than previous Omicron sublineages. However, there is no evidence currently available to suggest that BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe disease than other variants or Omicron lineages. US CDC is continuing to assess the impact that BA.4 and BA.5 have on public health.
BA.5 is one of many Covid-19 Omicron subvariants to emerge since last winter. The subvariant is also driving up cases in parts of Europe and North America and has become the dominant U.S. Omicron strain. This version of the virus is believed to spread particularly easily, fueled in part by its ability to evade immunity built up from vaccines and prior infections.
Is BA.5 more contagious?BA.5 is undoubtedly more contagious than the variants that dominated earlier this summer — one study estimated it is 1.4 times more transmissible than the subvariant that dominated before it.
Its transmissibility is evidenced by BA.5’s rapid takeover as the dominant coronavirus strain.
Researchers from Gladstone Institutes, the University of California Berkeley, and the Innovative Genomics Institute utilized virus-like particles to determine which elements of the virus are responsible for its heightened infectivity and transmission.
Additionally, they demonstrated that although antibodies produced against earlier virus variants are substantially less effective against Omicron, those who have recently had a booster shot have greater levels of efficient antibodies. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (July 2022).
The results suggest that Omicron has similar assembly efficiency and cell entry compared to Delta and that its rapid spread is due mostly to reduced neutralization in sera from previously vaccinated subjects. In addition, most currently available monoclonal antibodies will not be useful in treating Omicron-infected patients with the exception of bebtelovimab.
How dangerous is Omicron Variant?No evidence has shown that BA.5 will cause more severe illness than previous omicron subvariants. Hospitalizations and deaths do not appear to have ticked up in response to rising cases.
The omicron variant is less likely to cause long COVID than the delta variant, new research has found. Analysis by researchers from King's College London of data from the ZOE COVID Symptom study app is published in The Lancet (June 2022). The findings are from the first peer-reviewed study to report on long COVID risk and the omicron variant.
Long COVID is defined by NICE guidelines as producing new or ongoing symptoms four weeks or more after the start of disease. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of concentration and joint pain. The symptoms can adversely affect day-to-day activities, and in some cases can be severely limiting. Researchers found the odds of experiencing long COVID were between 20-50% less during the omicron period versus the delta period, depending on age and time since vaccination.
The UK Office of National Statistics estimated the numbers of people with long COVID actually increased from 1.3 million in January 2022 to 2 million as of May 1, 2022.
Lead author, Dr. Claire Steves from King's College London, said, "The omicron variant appears substantially less likely to cause long COVID than previous variants, but still 1 in 23 people who catch COVID-19 go on to have symptoms for more than four weeks.
COVID-19 Omicron BA5 Symptoms
The range of possible symptoms is wide but centers on the upper respiratory system.
According to the US CDC (updated August 2022), people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms.
Possible symptoms include:
- 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
Because these symptoms can easily be mistaken for a common cold, especially during a time when travel restrictions are being lifted, many choose not to seek out a COVID-19 test initially — until other symptoms present later down the road.
Related: How to Prevent Getting Omicron Variant
Emergency warning signs
Individuals are reminded to seek immediate medical attention (go to a hospital’s emergency department) if they develop emergency warning signs of COVID-19 such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Bluish lips or face
- New confusion or inability to arouse
As soon as you have symptoms, consult your healthcare provider and start treatment as early as possible. If treatment is delayed i.e. after 5 days of symptoms, your chances of severe COVID are higher.
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