Recently, KSLA News 12 reported that the new COVID-19 subvariant, BA.5, is the reason people are now getting sick for a second or even third time. In fact, BA.5 causes 80 percent of new infections. The scary thing is this is double the infection rate of any of the previous waves of the pandemic. Because it is so highly contagious, base counts and hospitalizations continue to climb.
The good news is that while BA.5 is now the dominant strain in the U.S., it appears to cause less severe illness than its predecessors.
However, some folks are still at higher risk of illness than others, particularly those who are already immunocompromised and those who are 65 or older.
The BA.5 subvariant is similar to BA.2, the omicron subvariant which gained momentum last March. But this version has new mutations to its spike protein that makes it easier to go undetected by our immune systems, even if we have been vaccinated against previous infections.
This isn’t to say that your immune system won’t ever detect BA.5, it will just take a minute for it to catch up. Still, enough time may elapse for BA.5 to wreak havoc on your body.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been warned to look for symptoms including headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever, and fatigue.
In the beginning, we were also told to look out for loss of taste and smell. However, with BA.5 only 17 percent of patients still experience these two symptoms. So just because you can still smell food cooking in the kitchen and taste your favorite eats doesn’t mean that you have not been infected. Toss those precepts out the window.
Still, don’t fret just yet. Most healthy individuals, especially those who have stayed current on their vaccinations and boosters, will avoid hospitalization even if they do get infected. This isn’t to say you will avoid any symptoms. You’ll likely still feel pretty lousy and will suffer with flu-like symptoms.
Also, according to the American Medical Association, between 10 and 30 percent of COVID-19 patients are experiencing long COVID, which may lead to fatigue and neurological issues even months after an infection.
Children as young as 6 months can now get the vaccines. Also, people over 50 and older than 12 who are immunocompromised can now get a second booster shot four months after the first one.
While BA.5 is not covered by the current COVID vaccines and boosters, these are still your best defenses against contracting COVID-19 in the first place and will help keep you out of the hospital.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is working with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to develop boosters that target both the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, as well as the original COVID-19 strain.
In the end, the CDC still strongly recommends getting boosted now. We will be able to get our updated boosters after the new ones come out, hopefully later this year.
The ways we protect ourselves from the BA.5 subvariant are the tried-and-true methods we have been using all along.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available)
- Wear a mask when indoors in a public setting, preferably a N95 respirator or its equivalent
- Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses
- Get tested if you notice any COVID-19 symptoms
- Increase ventilation when indoors by turning on fans or opening windows to increase air circulation
Now isn’t the time to give up. The pandemic isn’t over, and the virus is constantly changing. Stay vigilant and be safe out there!