Do I Need To Worry About The COVID-19 BA.2 Variant?

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Maybe you’ve heard that cases of COVID-19 have once again peaked in Europe, thanks to a new variant called the BA.2 variant. Maybe you’ve heard that what happens in Europe—in terms of COVID-19—will likely happen here in the United States, about four weeks later. And as it stands, the BA.2 variant is already becoming the most dominant cause of COVID-19 around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States are due to the BA.2 variant.   

“The BA.2 variant is a subvariant of the Omicron variant,” says Dennis Cunningham, medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health. “You could say that it’s a descendant of the Omicron variant. While it appears to be about 30% to 50% more transmissible than Omicron, it doesn’t seem to cause a more severe illness than Omicron—except in children. Hospital rates from BA.2 seem to be higher in children compared to other variants. We don’t know why this is, but we will learn more in the coming weeks, as research continues.”

Overall, the symptoms of BA.2 (or “stealth Omicron” as it is sometimes called) are similar to the symptoms associated with Omicron: sore throat, headache, cold-like symptoms, achiness. Shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste, which were symptoms closely associated with the original strain of COVID-19, don’t seem to be commonly associated with BA.2, says Dr. Cunningham.

Will There Be A Surge Of BA.2 Here In The United States?

While we’ll likely see an increased number of cases due to the BA.2 variant, Dr. Cunningham doesn’t think the surge will be as bad as what Omicron brought last January and February, thanks to a few factors:

  • Currently, more than 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated and half of that group has received a booster. (If you are age 50+, you can now receive your second booster. While the vaccines are effective against BA.2—and they will help prevent severe illness and hospitalization—their effectiveness decreases over time. When you are eligible for a booster, it is a good idea to get one.)
  • About 43% of Americans have had COVID-19 and may still have some antibodies that are protective against BA.2 or severe illness. That said, natural immunity isn’t a replacement for getting vaccinated. If you had Omicron, you can still get BA.2. You do have some natural protection, but it does not last very long and the level of protection varies from person to person. If you’ve had COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated.

It’s also always a good idea to wear a mask if you have a cold or a sniffle, and in settings where you could be exposed to the virus – in public, indoor places, or if you are in close contact with other people. Wash your hands frequently. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods and exercise. All these actions will keep your body healthy and better able to fight off COVID-19—or any kind of infection.

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Henry Ford offers COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to established patients. Appointments can be scheduled in MyChart.

For updates on booster guidelines and availability of vaccines by age group, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs.  

Dr. Dennis Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.   

Categories: FeelWell