AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just as COVID-19 case numbers in Austin-Travis County finally seem to have hit their peak, both local and national health leaders are pointing to another possible threat — BA.2, an omicron subvariant that is being called the “stealth variant.”
Austin Public Health confirmed to KXAN at least three cases of the subvariant have been identified by Houston Methodist Hospital. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services has not updated its dashboard since the middle of January, and it does not reflect the cases.
States bordering Texas such as New Mexico and Colorado have also detected BA.2.
So what is the BA.2 subvariant and should you be concerned? We took some of those questions to Austin-Travis County health leaders.
If I got omicron, will I get BA.2?
Austin Public Health said early reports indicate it is likely that having BA.1 (the traditional omicron strain) will protect against BA.2.
As with all versions of this virus, reinfections are possible. Health leaders maintain the best protection against getting COVID-19 is to be up-to-date on vaccinations.
How does this compare to omicron?
According to Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, BA.2 has more than 80 mutations but still has similar characteristics to omicron.
“BA.2 is a sublineage of the omicron variant — in other words it is a sister to BA.1 and BA.3, so it will behave similarly,” William Malm, an APH spokesperson, wrote. He added early reports show BA.2 might be more transmissible than omicron, but severity of illness and vaccine effectiveness are similar.
Why is BA.2 getting so much attention?
This subvariant is currently listed as a variant under investigation, according to APH. They added the emergence of variants always requires scientists to pay close attention.
Walkes said earlier this week as long as we have unprotected pockets of our population, we always run the risk of variants causing challenges.
“We have the risk, and run the risk of being in a situation where we are faced with hospital capacity challenges and economic challenges,” Walkes said. “It’s really important for us to continue to get our community vaccinated and to continue mitigation efforts.”
Is it normal for subvariants to emerge and spread this fast?
This isn’t the first subvariant we’ve seen during this pandemic, even though it’s getting more attention. A spokesperson for Austin Public Health said viruses continue to evolve as long as people are susceptible. That spokesperson reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted.
Of the eligible population in Travis County, 71% are fully vaccinated. That does no include children under the age of five that are not eligible.
Source Here: kxan.com