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Is the BA.5 COVID-19 subvariant super contagious?

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From UC Health.


"It seems like everyone is dealing with COVID-19 this summer — even the president of the United States.

The White House announced that President Joe Biden tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 on July 21. If you’re sick too, or you have friends and relatives who’ve struggled this summer, you can blame a highly infectious omicron subvariant known as BA.5.

To help you understand what is going on with COVID-19 now and what the BA.5 subvariant is, we consulted with Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control and a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

What is BA.5?

BA.5 is the newest subvariant to be causing COVID-19 infections. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BA.5 is now causing nearly 70% of COVID-19 infections in the U.S.

BA.5 is a subvariant of omicron, the variant that has out-competed other versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That’s the virus that causes COVID-19. The original virus has evolved over time, which is typical of viruses. Omicron became the dominant variant in the beginning of 2022 and BA.5 has taken over as the dominant subvariant this summer.

Why am I hearing so much about BA.5 now?

BA.5 is a hot topic this summer because it’s incredibly infectious, much more so that the original version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“BA.5 is having its moment because it has perfected how to transmit the virus from person to person,” Barron said. “The virus wants to survive. How does it survive? It keeps perpetuating itself.”

In order to spread, the BA.5 subvariant has figured out how to evade vaccines and infect people who have recovered from relatively recent cases of COVID-19.

Researchers are debating exactly how much more infectious BA.5 is. Scientists estimated that people who became infected with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus each spread it to about 2 or 3 other people. The delta variant — which dominated in late 2021 — was even more infectious. It had what scientists call an R-naught value of about 7, meaning each person who was infected with the virus could spread it to about 7 people. The omicron variants, including BA.5, are even more infectious than the delta variants. Scientists are still debating exactly how much more. One Australian statistician theorized that each person who got BA.5 could spread it to 18 others, which would put BA.5 on par with the infectiousness of measles. Other researchers are challenging that notion, and time will tell exactly how contagious BA.5 proves to be. Suffice it to say that BA.5 is easy to get.

Barron said that’s no surprise. Viruses adapt so they can spread better and survive longer.

You could think of BA.5 as a sneaky, speedy racehorse. It’s sneaky because it can bypass vaccine protection and antibodies from previous infections. And it’s fast at spreading.

BA.5 has borrowed survival skills from delta and other omicron variants that helped it spring to the front of the pack.

“It’s like a thoroughbred. When people breed horses, they find different characteristics to make the horse next level,” Barron said.

That’s how this particular variant is. It’s good at beating the competition.

I hear that BA.5 COVID-19 infections are spreading widely. Is that true?

Yes, that’s definitely true, Barron said.

But it’s hard to tell exactly how bad this current wave of COVID-19 infections is compared with earlier spikes. That’s because many people are not getting tested. Or they’re doing tests at home and are not reporting positive results to state and county health departments.

“The positivity rates are not truly representative,” Barron said. “The number of people who are being tested is lower overall. And the people who are getting tested are typically symptomatic (rather than large swaths of the population getting tested).”

Official positivity rates are quite high now and aren’t conveying the full picture.

“We’re missing all the home test results,” Barron said. “A lot of people have COVID-19 now.”

Does BA.5 make people sicker than previous COVID-19 variants or subvariants?

No. Not so far. Many, many people are getting sick. But so far, hospitalizations have not risen dramatically, Barron said.

“BA.5 doesn’t kill people fast. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do to survive: transmitting rapidly to as many people as possible and making them sick without killing most of them. If you kill (your host) too quickly, then you can’t keep spreading,” Barron said.

What should I do if I get BA.5?"

And more in the article here:



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