BA.5: “The worst version of the Covid virus we’ve ever seen”, says expert

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“It takes already extensive immune escape to the next level and, as a result, greater transmissibility”, far beyond previous versions of Omicron. (Credit: Reproduction/Disclosure)

+ Brazil records 381 deaths and more than 68 thousand cases of covid in the last 24 hours

In Europe, the Omicron subvariants are increasing cases by around 25%, although Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said the number could be higher given the “near collapse in testing”. BA.5 is on the march in China, raising anxiety that major cities there may soon be enforcing strict lockdown measures that have only recently been lifted. And the same variant has become the dominant strain in the United States, where it accounted for 65% of new infections last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We have watched this virus evolve rapidly. We are planning and preparing for this moment. And the message I want to convey to the American people is this: BA.5 is something that we are monitoring closely, and most importantly, we know how to manage it,” said Ashish Jha, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator, at a press conference on Tuesday.

On the same day, the WHO Emergency Committee said Covid-19 remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – its highest alert level, first declared on 20 January 2020 – amid rising cases. , ongoing viral mutation and mounting pressure on already overstretched healthcare systems.

In a statement, the committee, made up of independent experts, highlighted challenges to the ongoing global response to Covid-19, including a drop in testing and irregular genome sequencing, raising the question of how accurately any nation might reasonably be able to monitor BA.5.

Official data drastically underestimates the actual number of infections in the US, epidemiologists say, leaving the country with a critical blind spot as the most transmissible coronavirus variant still takes hold. Some experts think there could be as many as 1 million new infections every day in the wider US population – 10 times the official count.

As for how to manage the new wave, Jha urged Americans age 50 and older to get second boosters. Adults who are up to date on vaccines are less likely to be hospitalized than those who are not vaccinated. But only about one in four U.S. adults over age 50 have received their second recommended boosters, data collected by the CDC shows.

U.S. health officials are urgently working on a plan to allow second Covid-19 boosters for all adults, a senior White House official confirmed on Monday, amid fears that younger adults’ immunity could be decreasing as Covid-19 cases increase with dominance. of BA.5.

What makes BA.5 different?

Eric Topol, cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, called BA.5 “the worst version of the virus we’ve ever seen.” He explained in a recent newsletter: “It takes the already extensive immune escape to the next level and, as a result, greater transmissibility” far beyond previous versions of Omicron.

In other words, BA.5 can easily evade immunity from previous infections and vaccines, increasing the risk of reinfection. While the variant doesn’t appear to lead to more serious illness, in an interview Monday, Topol said that given the extent of BA.5’s immune evasion, he expects to see an escalation in hospitalizations, as we’ve seen in Europe and elsewhere where the variant took root. “One good thing is that it doesn’t seem to be matched by ICU admissions and deaths like previous variants, but this is definitely concerning,” he added.

Public health experts in the US can take comfort from the variant’s trajectory in Europe. Ryan of the WHO said last week that while many European countries are experiencing a jump in hospitalizations, “what we are not seeing is an increase in admissions to intensive care units, so vaccines are still working and it is these gaps in immunity that are causing the problem.”

But still, sharp reductions in Covid-19 surveillance around the world are hampering epidemiologists’ efforts as they race to track the virus’ evolution.

“Subvariants of Omicron such as BA.4 and BA.5 continue to generate waves of cases, hospitalization and death around the world,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Surveillance has significantly reduced — including testing and sequencing — making it increasingly difficult to assess the impact of variants on transmission, disease characteristics, and the effectiveness of countermeasures.”

“New waves of the virus demonstrate again that Covid-19 [pandemia] It’s not even close to the end,” he added.

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