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Are BA.5 symptoms similar to ‘meningitis’? This is what doctors are seeing right now

Not even President Joe Biden is safe from the infectious omicron subvariant BA.5. Here’s everything you need to know

SHARE Are BA.5 symptoms similar to ‘meningitis’? This is what doctors are seeing right now

An illustration of the omicron variant.

Illustration by Michelle Budge, Deseret News

It feels like everyone, including President Joe Biden, has caught the omicron variant. The new COVID-19 subvariant BA.5 quickly became the dominant strain behind nearly 80% of all cases in the United States.

Hospitalization numbers saw a 4.3% increase since last week, with the current seven-day average at more than 6,200 cases. The number is still lower than the omicron wave in January, when hospital admissions reached over 21,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker.

Daily cases have reached over 140,000 in the U.S., but experts believe that the actual number could be seven times higher because of the popularity of at-home COVID-19 tests and a lack of reporting when the result of an at-home test is positive, as I previously reported.

What do BA.5 symptoms look like?

Dr. Claire Taylor, a general practitioner in the United Kingdom, took to Twitter to talk about her experience when her family was reinfected with what she suspects was BA.5.

She wrote that her family had omicron 12 weeks ago. Although she expected a reinfection, she said she was surprised to get sick again “so quickly.”

When Taylor’s 9-year-old son with a temperature of 101.84 complained about “a painful stiff neck,” she thought it was meningitis, which causes swelling around the brain and spinal cord.

But a painful stiff neck isn’t commonly seen in omicron patients, Dr. Julianne Burns, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford Children’s Health in San Francisco, told Insider. COVID-19 symptoms cause more “general body aches,” she added.

The worst of it is a severely sore throat, UCSF’s Dr. Peter Chin-Hong told ABC 7 Bay Area

“Like their throat is on fire with BA.5,” said Chin-Hong. “We hear it’s the worst sore throat they’ve had.”

What are the top omicron symptoms?

Omicron subvariants have a shorter incubation period, which is why the symptoms may appear earlier.

The most common omicron-related symptoms are:

  • Cough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Congestion.
  • Runny nose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed common symptoms for COVID-19. The symptoms are:

  • Fever or chills.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Sore throat.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

Is the BA.5 omicron subvariant very contagious?

Although BA.4 and BA.5 aren’t associated with a more severe infection, they do have the ability to evade antibodies acquired through vaccines or a previous infection, which makes it highly contagious, according to the University of California, Health.

The mutations that these new subvariants have are a result of masses acquiring antibodies and “the high level of immunity in the population is likely exerting selection pressure on the virus and the virus is evolving to try to get around that immunity,” Daniel Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Vox.

Are you protected from infection if you’ve had omicron before?

A recent study that evaluated cases in Qatar showed that while any previous infection from COVID-19’s original strains offers some protection, a prior omicron infection fights against the BA.4 and BA.5 more effectively.

Study co-author Laith Abu-Raddad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar in Doha, along with other researchers, analyzed cases in the country between May and July this year — around the time that BA.4 and BA.5 started causing a surge in cases.

“The immunity you’re getting from these omicron infections actually protects you from other Omicron sub-lineages to some extent,” Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, told Nature.

“COVID is everywhere,” he added. “It can easily evolve into a new variant.”

Can you get reinfected with the new omicron subvariant?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, explained in a press briefing that since June of last year, “successive variants, due to mutational changes, have essentially bumped one variant off the table after the other, leading to the broader category of omicron — where we are right now.”

But, he continued, omicron is a bigger problem than other variants, like alpha, beta and delta.

“Omicron, as a broad category, has multiple sublineages with BA.1, BA.2, BA.2.12.1. And now, what we’re currently challenged with is the BA.4, 5 — particularly the BA.5,” he said, adding that these successive subvariants are more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strains.

Do vaccines work against the new omicron strains?

The latest study from the University of Geneva explored the omicron variant and its interaction with the immune system.

Researchers found that this COVID-19 mutation has the ability to evade antibodies generated by the original or delta strain.

But those who are vaccinated will have antibodies that remain “far superior to natural immunity alone,” per Science Daily. The study goes on to state that antibody levels are 10 times higher through vaccination.

“Thus, omicron can evade existing immunity and cause an infection, but hospitalisation and death due to COVID-19, even with omicron, is still reduced after vaccination,” said Isabella Eckerie, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, who led the study.

What are other new omicron subvariants?

Omicron was deemed a variant of concern, with some of its lineages — BA.2.75, BA.13, BA.2.11, BA.2.9.1, BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 — being closely monitored.

The newest omicron subvariant is BA.2.75, also known as “centauraus,” with many new mutations that could leave to a wave of its own, as the Deseret News reported.