Omicron: What do we know about the ‘stealth variant’?

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A new version of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, known as BA.2, has emerged. Although experts are unsure about its effects, they know that it is spreading quickly and has 20 mutations in the area that most COVID-19 vaccines target.

Should we be worried about the ‘stealth variant’ of Omicron? Image credit: Kate Geraghty/The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists first identified the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron in India and South Africa in late December 2021. Since then, it has spread to several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

The subvariant virus has also spread rapidly in Denmark, increasing from 20% of all COVID-19 cases in the country in week 52 of 2021 to 45% in the second week of 2022. Despite its rapid spread in the country, initial analyses show no difference in hospitalizations between the BA.2 subvariant and the original form of Omicron, also known as BA.1.

Studies, however, are still ongoing to understand the infectiousness of BA.2, alongside how effective vaccines are against it. While BA.2 is not currently a “variant of concern,” public health officials in the U.K. have taken enough interest in its spread to designate it as a “variant under investigation.”

To understand more about the emerging subvariant, Medical News Today spoke with six experts in public health, immunology, and infectious diseases.

Omicron has three main [subvariants] — BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3 — according to the World Health Organization (WHO),” Dr. Donald C. Vinh, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University, Canada, told MNT. “Up until now, the overwhelmingly large majority of all Omicron cases has been BA.1. However, in some places, the BA.2 has emerged and has spread faster than BA.1,” he went on to note.

“This sister variant, which is still Omicron, is interesting because it seems to be displacing Omicron in certain parts of the world,“ Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told MNT. “There is speculation that it may be more transmissible than its sibling.” How the fast spread of the BA.2 subvariant may affect public health is still under investigation.

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