The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its estimates on which subvariants are causing cases of coronavirus in the United States each week, and a new version of omicron could ascend to the top of that list this week.
According to last week’s data, the BA.2.12.1 subvariant of omicron made up an estimated 47.5% of COVID cases in the United States.
So what exactly is this new subvariant? Is it spreading faster than previous iterations of the virus? And does it cause more severe illness? Here’s what we know so far.
What is BA.2.12.1?
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BA.2.12.1 is a subvariant of omicron, and emerged from the BA.2 subvariant that has been the dominant strain in the U.S. since late March, according to the CDC.
It is one of several subvariants, or “sublineages,” of the omicron variant of COVID-19, with the CDC also tracking B.1.1.529 and BA 1.1, among others.
What are the Symptoms of BA.2.12.1?
According to experts, most of the symptoms of the subvariant are the same as other strains of COVID, including a stuffy nose, body aches, sore throat, sneezing, headache, coughing, fatigue and more.
Researchers in the UK found that runny nose and fatigue were slightly more prevalent in BA.2.12.1 cases, according to NBC News.
Is it Spreading Faster Than Previous Omicron Subvariants?
The CDC says that “early evidence suggests BA.2.12.1 is increasing in variant proportion faster than other omicron sublineages,” and data seems to point to that, with the subvariant making up nearly 50% of new COVID cases in the U.S. according to CDC estimates.
According to data cited by Forbes Magazine, BA.2.12.1 appears to be approximately 25% more transmissible than the original BA.2 subvariant of omicron. For context, BA.2 was 50% more transmissible than the original omicron variant when it roared onto the national scene in early March.
Is it Causing More Severe Illness?
The short answer is no, and for the longer answer, omicron subvariants have generally “caused less-severe disease” than prior variants, according to the CDC, and BA.2.12.1 seems to be following that same pattern, according to experts.
There has been no data showing that vaccines are less effective against this subvariant of the virus.
How Widespread is This New Subvariant?
According to the CDC, approximately 47.5% of COVID cases in the United States are believed to be linked to this new subvariant of omicron.
At the rate that the subvariant has been spreading, it will in all likelihood become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States when the CDC has its weekly COVID variant metrics update on Tuesday.
The BA.2.12.1 subvariant was first tracked by the CDC earlier this year, but really started gaining steam in the month of April, going from 7.4% of cases on April 2 to an estimated 31.5% of cases by the end of the month.
During that time, the original BA.2 subvariant of omicron saw its dominance diminish, and that trend has continued through the start of May as well.