Omicron: Another 'more infectious variant will come' says doctor

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Omicron is causing a resurgence of COVID-19 across the globe. The variant has undergone a number of mutations since its emergence and each successive variant has proven to be more transmissible than the last. Indeed, the latest Omicron subvariant – BA.5 – is “far more” transmissible than its predecessors, warned Doctor Anthony Renshaw, Regional Medical Director at International SOS, in a recent interview with Express.co.uk.

In fact, “BA.5 has now overtaken measles to become the most contagious virus we’ve seen”, the doc said.

What accounts for this inbuilt advantage?

Doctor Renshaw cited a new study from Australia which suggests BA.5 has a better ability to get into cells and infect them, and so more copies of the virus are made.

“In this regard it is behaving much more like the Delta variant,” he said.

The Delta variant was dominant in the UK from 17 May to 19 December 2021 before being supplanted by the Omicron strain.

The doc continued: “This behaviour may also explain why some reports of people infected with BA.5 are now taking longer to finally test negative on rapid antigen tests.

“BA.5 also has a much more canny way of escaping our immune system, which means that you can get reinfected more quickly than previously.”

He added: “It also means that vaccine-derived protection against infection is not lasting quite as long as previously, as antibodies are dropping off more quickly than before.”

There are some bright spots. “Vaccine protection against hospitalisation and death is continuing to hold up well against BA.5,” noted the doc.

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“But as immunity wanes, and cases rise, larger numbers of infections are starting to affect older at-risk groups once more,” he warned.

“This is thus helping fuel the rises in hospitalisations being seen across parts of Europe.”

According to the doc, an increasing number of countries are therefore now starting to extend second booster doses to the general population, focusing on the highest risk groups.

“Another booster it is thought will not only prevent infection, but will continue to prevent severe disease.”

According to data coming out of the US, adults aged 50 and older with two booster doses are noted to have a four times lower risk of dying from COVID-19, compared to people who receive one booster dose, Doctor Renshaw said.

SO, what are the signs to spot?

Although the virus appears to be resulting in a milder illness, owing in part to the two layers of immunity built up in the general population, “some people — even those who had mild versions of the disease — might have symptoms that last a long time afterward”, warned Doctor Renshaw.

This is known as long Covid, which is loosely defined in the UK as lasting 12 weeks or more.

“The signs and symptoms of this ‘post-COVID-19 syndrome’ (also known as long Covid) are very varied and reflect the variety of organs and systems affected by COVID-19,” explained Doctor Renshaw.

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Common symptoms include ongoing fatigue, chest pain, breathlessness, confusion or brain “fogging”.

“It is worth speaking to your doctor if you are suffering with unresolved symptoms as support is available,” advised Doctor Renshaw.

The most serious signs remain similar to those reported in the previous omicron waves, he added.

“This includes issues such as, severe lung disease causing breathing difficulties, pneumonia, kidney, liver or heart injury, plus several other conditions requiring hospitalisation and admission to critical care.”

Doctor Renshaw added: “The wide range of complications reflects the fact that COVID-19 affects multiple systems in the body, not just the lungs.”

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