What to Know About Omicron BA.5: Symptoms, Tests and More

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

What is happening

The omicron variant of COVID-19 keeps changing, creating new, more contagious variants. BA.5 appears to be the most contagious version to date and is responsible for most current cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

why is it important

BA.5 causes more reinfection in people who have had COVID-19 before, including earlier versions of omicron. It is also escaping the immunity of vaccines.

What this means for you

Vaccines are always effective in preventing serious illness and death. To stay protected, get the booster shots you are entitled to and wear a mask in public.

BA.5, the newest sub-variant of omicron, leads to a summer increase in cases and hospitalizations. This highly contagious version of the coronavirus is responsible for around 86% of current cases, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a July 12 White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, explained how the virus that causes COVID continues to mutate and the virus “essentially knocked one variant off the table after another,” which led to a long parade of increasingly contagious omicron subvariants. BA.5 is the most recent and very problematic mutation.

Although the BA.5 “largely” wards off antibodies from past infections and vaccines, health officials say being up to date with a booster (or two boosters if you’re 50 or older) still protects against serious illnesses and death. Research so far shows that BA.5 does not overcome these severe disease protections, although further research is needed to understand its clinical severity compared to earlier omicron subvariants.

In an effort to target the most relevant virus strain causing COVID-19, vaccines based on the BA.5 subvariant (along with BA.4) will be the first choice for COVID-19 booster shots this fall, which will be rolled out as early as September. Response team coordinator Dr Ashish Jha encouraged everyone to get a booster if they are eligible and have not opted in yet as it will not affect people’s ability to get themselves. vaccinate in the fall or winter when they become eligible. Second boosters of existing vaccines will likely only be recommended until then for adults 50 and older and younger adults and immunocompromised adolescents.

COVID-19 treatments, including Paxlovid, should still be effective, and US Test to Treat clinics are still operational to connect those most at risk with treatment prescriptions if they need them.

Here’s what we know about BA.5.

Read more: CDC recommends Novavax: Here’s how it’s different from other COVID vaccines

Do home tests detect BA.5?

At present, there is no reason to suggest that rapid home COVID-19 tests (a few boxes of which are free when ordering via the government website) are less efficient when it comes to BA.5 compared to earlier versions of omicron. Overall, the FDA says early data suggests that antigen tests detect omicron but may have reduced sensitivity. BA.5 is a version of omicron, and the tests should work the same.

“Positive results remain highly accurate for these tests, although there may still be false negatives,” Shaili Gandhi, vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare, said in an email. Indeed, it takes a greater amount of virus to be positive on a rapid test than the highly sensitive PCR or lab tests. Fully vaccinated and boosted people, for example, may have a very low viral load (smaller amount of virus) and that may mean they test negative even though they have COVID-19.

Typically, rapid home tests work by detecting the part of the COVID-19 virus protein that doesn’t change much between variants, called the nucleocapsid, Slate reports. “Because of this, the tests are able to detect the different variants,” Nate Hafer, assistant professor of molecular medicine at UMass Chan Medical School, told the publication.

Long story short: To take a test.

How serious is BA.5? Do COVID-19 treatments still work?

BA.5 is a subvariant of omicron, meaning it is different from the “original” omicron, but not different enough to constitute its own variant status. (Delta is a different variant of omicron and beta, for example.) BA.5 is considered the most contagious version of the virus to date, however, and it evades immunity. This means that more people will be re-infected with COVID-19, which can put them at risk of complications and long COVID symptoms, even if the infection itself was mild.

Walensky said last week that we don’t yet know definitively the clinical severity of BA.5 compared to earlier omicron subvariants. As the pandemic drags on and most of the population has some immunity to vaccines and previous infections, it may become more difficult to compare the severity of variants and sub-variants in the real world.

In an analysis of a preliminary (not yet peer-reviewed) report from the Kirby Institute in Australia, however, Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, wrote that BA.5’s ability to infect cells might be more similar to the delta variant than the other omicron versions. He also writes that changes in BA.5 could explain reports of people taking longer to test negative compared to diseases with earlier omicron subvariants.

As with other versions of omicron that have reduced our immunity, available vaccines and boosters should still provide protection against serious illness and death. The boosters – including a second booster – have been particularly important in protecting the elderly and others more vulnerable to serious illness at omicron age, and have significantly reduced the risk of death from COVID-19.

Paxlovid, an effective antiviral drug, should still be effective in treating COVID-19 in people at higher risk of severe disease, Fauci said. The available monoclonal antibody therapy, Eli Lilly’s bebtelovimab, is also expected to be effective against BA.5, as is Evusheld. Evusheld

If you test positive for COVID-19 and you are at higher risk of serious illness (you are elderly or have a medical condition), contact your doctor or find a Test to Treat clinic near you. your house.

What are the symptoms?

Currently, there are no reports showing that BA.5 gives people different symptoms compared to earlier versions of omicron.

For many people who get sick with COVID-19 these days (especially those who are fully vaccinated and boosted), the symptoms resemble cold symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and fatigue. Back ache is a particular new symptom of COVID-19 that some people with omicron have reported, and the once very common loss of taste or smell seems to be much less common with omicron variants than with older strains.

If you have symptoms and are wondering if it’s COVID-19, getting tested and staying home while you’re sick will help protect those most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness. -19.

Read more: Is it allergies or COVID? How to make the difference

A face mask and two syringes on a neon pink background.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Understanding omicron, variants and sub-variants

The variants are composed of several lineages and sublineages. Each variant has a “parental” line, according to the CDC, followed by other lines, which you can think of as a family tree. As the virus spreads between people, mutations occur, but they do not change all the characteristics of the virus significantly.

The omicron variant and its sublines made the virus much more contagious and able to infect more people, but it led to less severe disease, on average, than the delta variant.

One of the most important things we can do to keep the virus from mutating is keeping community levels of COVID-19 low so the virus has less chance of mutating, Fauci said.

Genomic surveillance can detect variants and sublines. Scientists in South Africa were able to quickly identify omicron as a new variant due to the way it shows up in PCR tests. The original omicron causes a loss of signal or marker on the test that distinguishes it from the delta, which was the dominant variant before the omicron. BA.2, however, did not have the same signal, called S gene target failure. This made it more “stealthy” and gave it its name. Genomic sequencing will detect all omicron subvariants and coronavirus variants in general.

However, detecting new variants or subvariants may become more difficult as the number of sequences shared across the world has “fallen precipitously”, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, infectious disease specialist at the World Health Organization. health. said in june. While the impact is still huge, having real-world data available soon after scientists detected the omicron was a benefit during last winter’s global surge.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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