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Two new omicron variants detected in the U.S. could spark another wave

Two strains, initially detected in South Africa, have made their way to the U.S.

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An illustration for the omicron variant.

Illustration by Alex Cochran, Deseret News

Two new strains of COVID-19 have arrived in the U.S. These variants evade antibodies from vaccinations and prior infections, which could create the possibility of a new wave.

Driving the news: These subvariants are BA.4 and BA.5, mutations of the omicron BA.1 variant, originating from South Africa where there has been a surge in cases despite a high percentage of the population being vaccinated or previously infected.

State of play: While the original omicron spread fast, the two newer strains are more infectious, Bloomberg reported.

Details: The Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa conducted a study that found that the BA.4 and BA.5 variants can evade antibodies.

  • “The low absolute neutralization levels for BA.4 and BA.5, particularly in the unvaccinated group, are unlikely to protect well against symptomatic infection,” the study noted, per Bloomberg.
  • “This may indicate that, based on neutralization escape, BA.4 and BA.5 have the potential to result in a new infection wave.”

What they’re saying: “BA.4 sequences have been identified in samples from multiple U.S. states,” Andy Pekosz, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Fortune, adding that the variant is spreading in the country but “it’s just not clear precisely how widely.”

What’s next?: While these variants are spreading globally, it is hard to predict the future, explained Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician who led the pandemic preparedness response for the H1N1 swine flu virus, per The New York Times.

  • A surge in cases in one country doesn’t necessarily mean a surge elsewhere, which is why monitoring data and stopping transmission is vital.