Omicron BA.4, BA.5 subvariants spread “like wildfire”, becoming dominant strains in the United States


SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Over a month ago, omicron’s BA.2.12.1 subvariant became the dominant strain across the country. Fast forward to this week and now the CDC has confirmed that BA.4 and BA.5 combined are responsible for the majority of cases in the US

“They take off like wildfire. They can evade our immune system,” said Gladstone Institutes research associate Nadia Roan.

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This CDC graph shows that Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 account for more than 52% of infections nationwide. As research continues into the behavior of BA.4 and BA.5, two studies provide preliminary data points.

One suggests that BA.4 and BA.5 appear to evade antibodies from vaccines and previous infections. Experts from UCSF and Stanford explain.
“Even if you had some immunity to a previous infection like BA.1, you’re still at high risk of being re-infected with these variants. They potentially find a way to bypass the immune response as well due to the infection. C “That’s why they outperform the dominant strain. Because they’re more transmissible and can bypass the immune system,” said Abraar Karan, infectious diseases at Stanford University.

Another study suggests that BA.4 and BA.5 may target cells in our lungs.

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“There’s a study that came out of Japan suggesting that in a lab dish when you put human lung cells in it, BA.4 and BA.5 can make more copies of themselves compared to omicron original,” Roan said.
“These things have a lot of mutations in them. Sometimes those mutations lead to a greater ability to bind to cells. Specific types of cells called alveolar cells that are deep in the lung tissue. As opposed to those in the upper respiratory tract I think that’s what can happen. Whether it’s of clinical significance or not is another question,” said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UCSF.

Gladstone Institutes research associate Nadia Roan is working on research to help the human body fight at the point of entry.

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“Ways to boost mucosal immunity,” Roan said. “We can do a better job of getting protection against an actual infection in the respiratory tract.”

Dr. Karan says wearing your mask and getting vaccinated still works against these subvariants.

“The same measures that can reduce airborne pathogen transmission and airborne spread will work regardless of the variant,” Karan said.

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