New Omicron Subvariant May Be More Contagious

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Image of COVID-19 virus taken from the FDA website. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

A new subvariant of the COVID-19 omicron variant has been discovered and detected in southern Nevada. 

“A sub variant is related to one of those other variants, it’s just a slightly different flavor of it,” said UNLV assistant professor and principal investigator of UNLV’s COVID-19 contact tracing team, Brian Labus. “Although if some variant turns out to be very, very different, ultimately, it could wind up just being reclassified as its own variant.”

Labus explained that researchers investigate the ability to spread, severity of illness and response to vaccines in comparison to similar strains of the same virus before classifying it as either a variant or subvariant. 

A recent study of the subvariant in Denmark found that it is notably more transmissible than the original omicron variant. The new BA.2 subvariant was found to be more transmissible in both unvaccinated and vaccinated people. A report from the U.K. Health Security Agency also found the BA.2 subvariant to be more contagious, but no evidence for increased transmissibility in vaccinated people compared to other sub variants of omicron. 

Multiple sources also report that there is no sufficient data to conclude that the subvariant is any more severe than omicron. 

“The virus itself spreads more easily than delta, we know that for certain,” Labus said. “It doesn’t appear to cause any worse disease, and it may be more mild. But we also have to keep in mind that the disease we’re seeing in the community is among a population that’s had more and more experience with it. We’ve had omicron infections, we’ve had more vaccinations, and boosters. So it’s hard to say that it’s any more mild.”

With the discovery of the new variant, it has also generated a nickname for itself “Stealth Omicron”, a nickname that Labus warns is misleading. 

“It makes it sound like we can’t detect it, and that is absolutely not true,” Labus explains. “And I think by calling it ‘stealth’ people have just said, ‘Oh no, it’s this brand new thing that sneaks in and we don’t even know it’s there.’ Really it’s no different than anything we’ve been testing before. It sounds like a great name, but it’s very, very misleading and scares the population I think more than necessary.” 

For advice on what to do, Labus repeated the same message that he did for omicron, and delta and alpha before that. 

“The things that we’re doing, we still have to keep doing,” Labus said. “A lot of them become more and more important as the virus can spread more easily. But people still need to get vaccinated and boosted, they need to wear masks, and if possible, upgrade your mask to a better mask. And still think about social distancing, I know we don’t have the same restrictions in our community. But close contact is what most easily spreads this just like other variants.”

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