Health

A worrisome COVID-19 variant to keep an eye on

While contamination levels of new subvariants are a concern, an even more concerning aspect is BQ.1.1’s resistance to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. (stock image)

As Canadians are urged to receive their COVID-19 and flu vaccines, many are wondering when the pandemic will end.

As the colder weather sets in, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in hospitals across the country. However, as COVID-19 continues to splinter, a new variant is emerging on the horizon that deserves recognition: the BQ.1.1 variant.

A detailed look at the COVID-19 BQ.1.1 variant

Different COVID-19 variants have predominated at different times during the pandemic. In early to mid-summer, the contagious BA.5 COVID-19 subvariant rolled across Canada and other parts of the world. Now, just a few months after BA.5 disappeared, epidemiologists in the UK are warning of the BQ1.1 subvariant as the next version to watch.

How does BQ.1.1 differ from previous variants?

In the US, BQ.1.1 infections are doubling every week. So far, this spread rate is double the rate of other leading sub-variants. For example, the new BQ.1.1 spreads twice as fast as BA.2.75.2.

BQ.1.1 is a sub-variant of the Omicron variant BA.5. The recently updated booster shots should help protect against the sub-variant.

BQ.1.1 is highly contagious

Some COVID-19 variants are more contagious than others. Currently, the most contagious COVID-19 variant is the strain called BA.5.

BQ.1.1 is spreading across North America along with other infectious Omicron variants. Currently, subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 account for more than 11 percent of new infections in the US, while BA5 accounts for 70 percent.

BQ.1.1 is resistant to certain antibody therapies

While contamination levels of new subvariants are a concern, an even more concerning aspect is BQ.1.1’s resistance to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. Experts noted earlier this year that certain BA.5 subvariants could evade the antibodies people have built up through previous infections and vaccinations.

Reports indicate that BQ.1.1 may be the first subvariant to be completely resistant to antibody therapies, such as Evusheld and Bebtelovimab.

What is our vaccine effectiveness with BQ.1.1?

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a COVID-19 booster, followed by a flu vaccine, at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Nov. 9, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a COVID-19 booster, followed by a flu vaccine, at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Nov. 9, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Vaccine effectiveness refers to how effective vaccines are at protecting the vaccinated population. It is still too early to definitively determine the efficacy of the vaccine against BQ.1.1. However, it is gaining a reputation as one of the most immune-evasive COVID-19 variants to emerge.

Without enough antibodies and vaccine solutions, the battle against the constantly mutating sub-variants of COVID-19 would become grim. Fortunately, the latest “bivalent” messenger RNA boosters are still proving effective against the virus.

What are the symptoms of BQ.1.1?

Currently, the symptoms to watch out for are the same symptoms associated with other Omicron-related sub-variants. Omicron subvariants may have a shorter incubation period and show symptoms faster than other COVID-19 variants. The worst symptom is feeling like your throat is on fire.

The most common symptoms associated with BQ.1.1 and other Omicron subvariants are:

  • Accumulation

  • Cough

  • Running nose

  • Fatigue

What to do if you contract BQ.1.1

If you think you may have contracted the new BQ1.1 subvariant or another variant of COVID-19, do a rapid test and self-isolate for five days. As we enter the colder months, seasonal allergies, flu, and colds will become more common as well. Many of these share symptoms with subvariant BQ.1.1, and keeping a COVID-19 home test kit handy will help you distinguish between COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses.

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