AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trend upward again in Texas, health officials point to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants as the reason for the rise. Here’s what we know about recent mutations in the virus:
Gravity of BA.4 and BA.5
Early research shows that omicron subvariants can cause more severe disease than the original omicron strain, especially for people who are unvaccinated or have no previous immunity, health officials said. ‘Austin. It can also cause more serious long-term illnesses.
“These two new subvariants that we see in BA.4 and BA.5 appear to be causing more disease in lung tissue than the omicron variant that we had circulating in January and February,” said Dr Desmar Walkes, the The Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said.
Walkes said if BA.4 and BA.5 do indeed end up being more severe, it could also mean more people are suffering from long COVID, a term health officials use to describe prolonged symptoms, like fatigue. and brain fog.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ogechika Alozie of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force says he’s seeing milder symptoms in his patients who likely have BA.4 and BA.5, especially for those with immunity. vaccination or previous infection.
“It’s the scratchy throat, the rhinitis, that runny nose, itchy eyes, a general feeling of being unwell, what we would call malaise or lethargy,” Alozie said.
Transmissibility of BA.4 and BA.5
Research on the transmissibility of BA.4 and BA.5 is also in its infancy. Health officials agree that being up to date on vaccines is the best way to protect against any variant or subvariant.
“The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are even more mutated than the original Omicron, which means our immune system has a harder time recognizing these new subvariants, which we already have been vaccinated or infected,” Celine tweeted. Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York University.
Health officials have said that even if you get the original omicron variant in late 2021 or early 2022, you’re still likely to get BA.4 and BA.5. But Alozie said the body’s immune system also deserves credit where it’s due.
“We know that whether it’s vaccine-induced immunity or virus-induced immunity, your antibodies that protect you from some of those initial symptoms, they seem to go down anyway after 10 to 12 weeks. And that’s natural, isn’t it? “, he explained. “You can’t run around with a multitude of antibodies forever, otherwise your blood would be thick and chock full of different antibodies.”
Symptoms of BA.4 and BA.5
While some experience more severe illness with BA.4 and BA.5, the symptoms seem to be similar to omicron. Symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
Is COVID-19 spreading in Texas?
According to Thursday’s update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of the population of Texas lives in a county classified as “high risk”. Corpus Christi, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio are all considered high risk.
Every week since Feb. 24, the CDC assigns a “COVID-19 Community Level” to each county across the country based on the impact of the virus on local populations.
Low, medium and high risk categories are determined based on three factors: the number of new cases in the past seven days, new hospital admissions in the past seven days, and the percentage of hospital beds staffed facilities used by COVID-19 patients.
In the KXAN viewing area: Blanco, Lampasas and Milam counties have all been upgraded to high risk. Meanwhile, Gillespie, Lee and Mason counties have moved from low to medium risk, joining Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties.
You can read more about current CDC levels in Texas in this story.
What do CDC community levels mean?
The CDC has the following recommendations for people based on the COVID-19 community level their county is in:
- Stay up to date with COVID vaccines
- Get tested if you have symptoms
- Same precautions as low risk and:
- Talk to your health care provider about whether you should wear a mask and take other precautions if you are at high risk for serious illness
- Same precautions as at medium risk and:
- Wear a mask indoors in public
- Additional precautions may be needed for people at high risk of severe illness
You can find the community risk level in your county using the CDC tool below:
How to avoid getting BA.4 and BA.5
The same is true for BA.4 and BA.5 as for previous outbreaks of COVID-19. The best ways to protect yourself include keeping up to date with your vaccinations, wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings (especially indoors), and washing your hands.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and get tested. You can find testing locations in Austin here.