WHO says omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have spread to more than a dozen countries

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Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have been detected in more than a dozen countries, helping to fuel sporadic Covid outbreaks around the world, but highly mutated strains are still circulating at low levels , the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

Fewer than 700 cases of BA.4 have been detected in at least 16 countries and more than 300 cases of BA.5 have been discovered in at least 17 countries, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid, during a question-and-answer session on the organisation’s social networks. media platforms.

Although the two sublines don’t make people any sicker than the original omicron strain, they do appear to be more contagious, Van Kerkhove said. She noted that the WHO will be monitoring BA.4 and BA.5 to determine if they will eventually overtake BA.2 as the dominant strain in the world.

“We don’t know how this variant will behave, how these subvariants will behave in other countries that have had a dominant wave of BA.2,” Van Kerhkove said. “That’s what remains to be seen.”

Both subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, have high detection rates in South Africa in particular, according to Kerhkove.

South Africa has reported 395 BA.4 cases and 134 BA.5 cases as of May 6, the highest figures of any country, according to a report released by the UK Health Security Agency last week. Countries do not sequence genetic data for every Covid case, so true infections are likely higher.

Just over 36 cases of BA.4 have been discovered in Austria, 24 in the UK, 20 in the US and 17 in Denmark, according to the report. Belgium, Israel, Germany, Italy, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and Botswana have all reported fewer than 10 BA.4 cases, according to the report.

Some 57 cases of BA.5 have been detected in Portugal, 52 in Germany and 17 in the UK, according to the report. The United States, Denmark, France, Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Israel, Norway, Pakistan, Spain and Switzerland have all reported less than 10 BA infections .5, according to the report.

The report notes that the number of sequences is low, but “the apparent geographic spread suggests that the variant is successfully transmitted.”

Monitoring BA.2.12.1

Another omicron subvariant called BA.2.12.1 has been detected in 23 countries, according to Van Kerkhove.

She said there are over 9,000 reported sequences of the subvariant, most of which come from the United States.

BA.2.12.1 accounted for about 42.6% of all new streak cases in the United States in the week ending May 7, according to Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BA.2 was still the dominant subvariant in the country, accounting for 56.4% of all new sequence cases that week.

But BA.2.12.1 was dominant in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, accounting for 66.3% of all new sequenced cases in those states and territories, according to CDC data.

Van Kerkhove said she expects to see an increase in case detection of BA.2.12.1 globally due to its higher growth rate than BA.2. But BA.2.12.1 showed no difference in hospitalization rates compared to BA.2, according to Van Kerkhove.

She urged governments around the world to closely monitor BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5 and other subvariants that may emerge in the future, stressing the need to maintain testing and sequencing. of Covid.

“We talk to the government all the time about the need to maintain surveillance systems so that we can track this, we can trace it and we can assess it in real time,” Van Kerkhove said.

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Edward L. Robinett