By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY – Just as the world has started to move forward from the last two years of the pandemic and most recent surge of the virus this past winter, the new BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron has gained prevalence across the globe.
As the mutation infects a new wave of people, New Jersey shows no exception to the global trend. Last week, the state experienced a spike in cases and hit 2,730 new cases in a single day on April 14th. This represents one of the highest numbers the state has reported since February 5th when the first Omicron surge was just beginning to die down.
According to infectious disease expert and Chief of Medicine at Jefferson Health, Dr. Todd Levin, even though both Omicron variants, BA.1, which produced the first spike a few months ago, and BA.2, which is the dominant variant right now, present higher levels of transmissibility than previous variants like Delta, they don’t seem to present more danger than other versions of the virus.
Infact, even though the BA.2 subvariant has emerged as the dominant COVID strain for the moment and caused increases in infection levels, there are currently no notable differentiators from this variant and BA.1. Similarly to BA.1, this strain causes more upper respiratory tract symptoms than lower, a positive mutation that makes it less dangerous for those who are infected. Upper respiratory symptoms may include a dry cough, sore throat and congestion.
Previously, patients with the Delta variant experienced more lower respiratory symptoms, which sometimes affected lung tissue and led to the development of Pneumonia. Now, Levin says that people are more at risk for Bronchitis with the latest subvariant, which in general presents less danger than the former disease.
Unfortunately, these symptoms aren’t easily distinguishable from most other viruses spreading around right now, or colds in general. While the first couple strains of COVID sometimes carried key indicators in patients, such as gastrointestinal issues, the newest Omicron variant doesn’t seem to come along with these symptoms any longer. Despite this being better for infected patients, it also makes it difficult to separate COVID from colds or allergies.
Levin notes that patients may still experience loss of taste and smell as a symptom of the latest Omicron variants, although it seems to be less reported or talked about publicly. This remains a symptom that may separate it from other common colds or viruses. However, nasal congestion caused by any cold or virus could cause similar effects.
Even though there aren’t significant changes on a symptomatic level, Levin notes that there is one slight change with therapeutics that has evolved with the BA.2 strain. Antibodies are sometimes provided by healthcare providers and given as infusions to patients with the intent to treat more severe cases. The antibodies are meant to make it reduce symptoms through decreasing reproduction of the virus. While the Trovimad antibodies were used previously, the Monoclonal antibodies are now recommended for the most impactful effects. This may continue to change with new information about the subvariant or with future mutations in the virus.
Despite this recent increase, Levin says that as of the end of last week, hospitalizations remain low and actually have continued to go down. He attributes methods of vaccination and hand hygiene to this success and steady progress forward. Additionally, vaccinated people report experiencing particularly mild forms of the illness.
“We still need to continue to educate about the importance of vaccination. The more people that are vaccinated really contributes to fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths,” Levin says. “Over the past few months and year the main contributor to severe illness is those that aren’t vaccinated.”
Levin also confirms that the vaccine is effective against the latest sub-variant of omicron, which should encourage people to continue to stay up to date with the vaccines and boosters.
“It improves your chances of survival, which is what we’re looking to do,” Levin says.
Currently 75.4% of New Jersey has been fully vaccinated. For more information on community vaccine events and nearby sites, visit https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine. Also, continue to FollowSouthJersey or go to Vaccine United website to receive the latest information on COVID updates and happenings in the local area.
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