The BA.5 subvariant of omicron is by far the most dominant strain of COVID-19 currently in circulation in the United States, and those numbers have continued to soar upward throughout the summer.
More than 80% of cases are currently being caused by the subvariant, according to CDC estimates, and officials say that the virus is seemingly better able to evade immunity given by the COVID vaccine.
Here’s what we know about the illness.
What is BA.5?
BA.5 is another subvariant of the original omicron variant of COVID-19. It has outcompeted other versions of the virus to become the most widespread subvariant currently circulating, and is causing the majority of cases in the United States and around the world.
How Prevalent is BA.5?
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the BA.5 subvariant is currently responsible for an estimated 85.5% of COVID cases in the United States, far and away the dominant strain in the country.
That number has continued to increase since it became the dominant strain of the virus in early July, but its spread is starting to slow.
What Are the Symptoms of BA.5?
Chicago’s top doctor, Dr. Allison Arwady, says that there are a lot of similarities to previous iterations of COVID, with symptoms including cold and flu-like illnesses, along with some loss of taste and smell, and congestion.
In the United Kingdom, studies have shown that runny noses, sore throats, persistent coughs and fatigue are the most common symptoms of the variant, with Arwady saying that individuals are experiencing a greater variety of symptoms because of the illness being “more virulent.”
Finally, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have shown a propensity to remain within nasal passages instead of getting into the lungs. Some doctors believe that the shift could lead to a nasal vaccine in the future.
Does BA.5 Make Patients Sicker?
Much like previous omicron strains, BA.5 does spread more quickly than previous versions of the virus, but it has not shown any increased ability to cause serious illness, with increases in hospitalizations and deaths lagging behind increases in cases, according to the University of Chicago Medical Center.
How Do Vaccines and Previous Infection Stand Up Against It?
Certain mutations have made the BA.5 subvariant better suited to avoiding immunity received from infection, vaccinations and boosters, according to initial research, but that has not translated into more serious illness among those who are fully vaccinated.
In fact, vaccinations still provide “good protection” against serious illness, hospitalization and death, even against the BA.5 subvariant, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Accurate are At-Home Tests for BA.5?
While at-home tests tend to require larger viral loads to trigger positive results, Arwady and the CDC both say that at-home tests are reliable tools to ensure public safety.
“Any positive test on a home test, on a rapid test, on a doctor’s test, or at a testing center – any positive is a positive,” Arwady said.