BA.4 Symptoms Usually Appear Like This
The Omicron BA.4 subvariant is sweeping across South Africa, and could lead to another COVID-19 surge in the U.S. "While we can so far be sure that COVID is here to stay, it is not yet clear where viral transmission rates will settle in terms of the level, spikiness or frequency of spread," says Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group. "We certainly can't predict a seasonal or periodic pattern yet." Here is what BA.4 looks like, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
BA.4 Symptoms Are Fairly Typical So Far
Alex Sigal, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa who co-authored a study on BA.4 and BA.5, says symptoms of the new variants are fairly typical, including fever, fatigue, and loss of smell. "I haven't seen early symptoms of respiratory distress, the major COVID-specific symptom that makes this disease so dangerous," Sigal says. "It doesn't feel nice, but there's less chance of dying."
BA.4 and Hospitalizations
So far, the BA.4 variant is not leading to an increase in hospitalizations. "The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa continues to closely monitor SARS-CoV-2 variants and sub-lineages circulating in SA. Work is also ongoing to determine the impact of the BA.4 and BA.5 mutations on the virus," says Dr. Nicole Wolter of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. "We have not observed an increase in hospitalisations. However, the situation is being monitored closely. There is currently no indication that this will change with BA.4 and BA.5."
Should We Worry About Reinfections?
"Reinfections will become the norm, but what we hope is repeat infections will be milder each time as natural immunity combined with vaccination generates strong protection," says James McCaw, an epidemiologist and mathematical biologist with the University of Melbourne. "We will get reinfected, and we are most likely to be reinfected by new versions of the virus, which are immunologically different. It's going to happen more and more because it's the only way for the virus to establish itself. It will be around forever because of reinfections."
Scientists Are Still Learning About BA.4
"There are less than 200 sequences available so far and we expect this to change…We are tracking (the virus) very closely to see if there is any uptick in case detection, but (so far) we haven't seen any change in epidemiology or severity," says World Health Organization lead epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.
Vaccinations Can Make a Huge Difference
There is no guarantee that BA.4 can be avoided, but experts say being up to date on vaccinations and boosters is the best way to protect against infection. "Vaccination remains effective at preventing severe disease, and individuals are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated and receive appropriate booster doses according to the latest Covid-19 vaccination recommendations," says Dr. Wolter.
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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