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BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are now the dominant COVID variants. Here's what this means.

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  • BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are now the dominant COVID variants. Here's what this means.


    The virus that causes COVID-19 is bringing more variants our way, requiring a few changes to the fight against it.

    The BA.5 variant of omicron, which has dominated the U.S. since early summer, is fading fast. According to data released Friday, half the cases in the U.S. are now due to two descendants of BA.5, called BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

    Not much is known about those two variants, but the severity and duration of disease seem similar to the other omicrons, and milder than the original and delta variants.

    The biggest challenge from the new variants will be for people who are immunocompromised because of disease or medications. Treatments designed to prevent and treatinfection in the immunocompromised won't work against BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

    What is the current COVID variant and what happened to omicron?
    The omicron variant that caused so many infections last winter is still around, but it has split into many subvariants. The two subvariants – BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 – now account for half of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    BA.5 now accounts for 24% of cases.

    Are the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 more dangerous?
    Lab studies suggest the viral descendants of BA.5 and BA.2, which includes all the new dominant variants, might cause slightly more severe disease than BA.1 or the original omicron, said Jeremy Luban, a professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry and molecular biotechnology at UMass Chan Medical School.

    ... The new variants are clearly more transmissible because they are taking over and making people sick despite previous vaccinations and infections, he said in a Thursday news conference with other members of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness.

    ... BA.5 was classified as an omicron variant but has mutations that distinguish it from other omicron subvariants, such as BA.1 and BA.2. BA.5 is the parental strain of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

    What are the symptoms of the new omicron variants?
    The symptoms of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 appear to be the same as for other COVID-19 variants. The most common symptoms include exhaustion, fever, a cough, congestion, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle aches or headache. Loss of smell, which originally characterized COVID-19 infections, is no longer as common.

    ... The last two protective monoclonal antibodies don't work against the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants, said Jake Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.