The latest Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is a whole different animal. Its most defining factor? It is the most easily transmissible COVID variant to date, able to evade previous immunity from COVID infection and vaccination.
The main reason this variant has become the predominant one that is now circulating is that it is able to evade previous immunity, even people who have partial immunity from a previous infection or vaccination can still have a breakthrough infection.
That means even if you were infected in 2020 with Delta or even Omicron BA.1 last winter, you can still get BA.5. Previous immunity does not defend against the latest strain.
Reported symptoms of BA.5 are similar to previous COVID variants: fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, headaches, muscle pain and fatigue.
The good news is that the vast majority of breakthrough infections now are outpatient illnesses. They are not resulting in the kind of severe illness that we saw earlier in the pandemic when no one had immunity, which led to increased hospitalizations and deaths.
But the bad news is that even if you have been infected with other strains, including previous Omicron strains, you can still get infected with BA.5.
Emerging research is finding that with each repeat COVID infection – even asymptomatic infection — you increase your risk for complications including stroke, heart attack, diabetes, digestive and kidney disorders and long-term cognitive impairment, including dementia.
Reinfection also poses risk of Long COVID, a syndrome with persistent COVID symptoms lasting weeks to months post-infection.
What can people do to defend against the latest variants?
- Ensure you are up-to-date with your COVID vaccinations and boosters. Getting vaccinated and all recommended boosters lowers risk of severe disease, as evidenced by CDC data showing 4x higher death risk from COVID in those over 50 with only one booster compared to those with two. Especially important for over 50s and immunocompromised individuals.
- Continue to wear a well-fitted face covering (N95 or KN95, if possible) when you are indoors and you’re not able to socially distance from people outside of your household. Especially if you are at risk for severe disease or if you are worried about that.
- Be prepared with an oxygen concentrator and pulse oximeter to monitor the oxygen level in the blood and be in continuous connection with your doctor.
In this case, if god forbid there will be a decline in the ability to breathe or in the supplement of the oxygen you will have an immediate solution and start oxygen therapy. (SEE OXYGEN THERAPY LINK READ MORE).