Currently, the BA.5 subvariant of the COVID-19 virus accounts for the majority of new cases in the United States.
What makes it different from previous versions, and how can we fight the spread?
What Is a Variant?
COVID-19 is a virus, so it mutates and changes quickly. When significant mutations happen, a new variant is created that has different characteristics than the original disease.
You can think of subvariants as children of a “parent” variant.
The most recent subvariant of COVID-19 is called BA.5. It is part of the omicron variant family, but is different than the original omicron that surfaced last fall.
Preliminary research shows that BA.5 is more transmissible than previous COVID strains. In addition, it has specific mutations that allow it to dodge our immune systems.
“Even if you had COVID-19 before, you could still contract BA.5,” said Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie, M.D., medical director of Carilion Clinic Infection Prevention and Control. “This subvariant is going to behave differently in terms of transmission, and we are only starting to witness its effect.”
COVID-19 symptoms, however, have generally stayed the same across variants. They include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Nausea or vomiting
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BA.5 is no more severe than previous versions of COVID. However, because the variant is highly transmissible and can even reinfect people who had COVID before, we are likely to see increased hospitalizations in our region.
People who are up to date on COVID vaccines are less likely to be admitted the hospital, need a ventilator, or die." ~CDC
The CDC urges the public to use these three tools to fight COVID-19:
- Vaccines. Anyone who is eligible should get vaccinated and boosted. People who are up to date on COVID vaccines are less likely to be admitted the hospital, need a ventilator, or die.
- Masks. Wear a well-fitting mask in places with high levels of COVID transmission, especially in indoor settings, or places with poor ventilation.
- Testing. If you show symptoms of COVID-19, get tested immediately and ask your provider whether you qualify for the readily available treatments.
Visit our COVID-19 vaccine information page to learn more or to schedule your vaccine or booster.
And be sure to reach out to your primary care provider or visit an urgent care center like Carilion Clinic's VelocityCare if you experience symptoms of COVID-19. Walk-ins are typically welcome at urgent care centers, but it's best to call ahead so they can take steps to protect staff and other patients.