BA.2 subvariant of omicron ‘increasing in many countries’

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 12:41 PM EST
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The United States has received encouraging news the past few days that COVID-19 cases of the omicron variant continue to fall in many parts of the country, including Florida.

However, health officials have their eye on a new version of omicron that has been detected in Europe, Asia and some parts of the U.S.

The subvariant is being called BA.2 since the original strain of omicron was deemed BA.1. Experts have not said where BA.2 was first discovered.

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The World Health Organization said BA.2 has different properties that separate it from the omicron strain that was first detected in South Africa in late November.

"The BA.2 descendent lineage, which differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries," the WHO wrote on its website. "Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA.1."

Linsey Jones, a medical assistant working at a drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic, wears an N95...
Linsey Jones, a medical assistant working at a drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic, wears an N95 mask, Jan. 4, 2022, in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle.

Currently, virologists said it's unclear if this version of omicron spreads any faster than the BA.1 version or causes more severe symptoms.

British News outlet Sky News reported Friday that BA.2 had "quickly taken hold" in Denmark and made up around half of the European country's omicron cases. But there was no difference in hospitalizations between the original omicron and the subvariant.

However, due to its genetic makeup and traits that have made it more difficult to identify than the original strain of omicron, some have given BA.2 the moniker, "stealth omicron."

Last week, notable British virologist Tom Peacock of the Imperial Department of Infectious Disease wrong a long thread on Twitter about the new substrain.

Peacock said data suggests that our current vaccines will be effective in fighting BA.2.

"There is likely to be minimal differences in vaccine effectiveness against BA.1 and BA.2," Peacock wrote on Twitter. "Personally, I'm not sure BA.2 is going to have a substantial impact on the current Omicron wave of the pandemic."

So far, only a few cases of BA.2 have been found in the U.S.

Two cases of the BA.2 variant were detected by health officials in Washington state on Monday, according to the NBC affiliate in Seattle.

At least three cases were found recently at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, which is studying the genetic makeup of virus samples from its patients, the Washington Post reported.

There have been a total of 88 reported samples of BA.2 in the U.S. from about 22 states, according to Newsweek citing the virus sequencing database GISAID.

The Florida Department of Health has not announced whether or not the subvariant has been detected in the Sunshine State.

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