The Current Omicron Variants Spreading Around the USA

COVID-19 has infected half a billion people globally since the pandemic erupted in 2020. In the United States, over one million people have died.

There is no question that the coronavirus has changed life as we know it. With everything going on in the world right now, it can be mind-boggling for the average person to keep track of the ever-evolving COVID-19 variants.

From Alpha through to the different Omicron variants, it seems there is constantly a new mutation on the horizon and no end in sight to the pandemic. It can be difficult to know how concerned to be every time authorities announce a new variant.

Despite the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination, breakthrough infections are still happening.  Experts say Omicron subvariants, in particular, are likely to infect people over and over again. This means that there will be an ongoing struggle for companies, schools, and households. 

Proven strategies to avoid, manage, and test for the virus will remain critical.

Read on to learn more about the different Omicron variants circulating in the United States.

Current COVID-19 Situation in the USA

The United States recently marked a grim milestone as it counted one million deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 82 million people in the country have caught the virus since it was first discovered.

The announcement of this heartbreaking toll came amid an uptick in infections in some parts of the country. Almost 10 percent of the country is currently experiencing a high level of infections.

Like most countries around the world, the United States has experienced several waves of infection. It hit its peak in January this year before dropping again, and experts say we could be at the start of a new surge.

Public health requirements and mask mandates have largely relaxed. However, COVID-19 has not, with constant mutations of the virus keeping the pandemic alive.

The dominant variant in the United States has been Omicron for several months. The latest surge is due to a new Omicron subvariant taking hold in communities.

What is Omicron?

COVID-19 has come a long way since emerging in China at the end of 2019. Experts have yet to pin down an exact origin, but many agree it originated in bats, with an intermediate host carrying it on to humans.

A year after the pandemic began, a new variant emerged in the United Kingdom. The Alpha variant was 50 percent more transmissible than the original, with 17 mutations.

A month later, in South Africa, scientists discovered the Beta variant. This was followed by Delta in India and Gamma in Brazil. Delta was estimated at 40-60 percent more transmissible than Alpha. It quickly became the dominant strain worldwide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) labeled all of them Variants of Concern (VOC), which means they present an increase in transmissibility or virulence.

Delta lost its throne as the dominant variant post-November 2021 when researchers discovered Omicron in South Africa and Botswana. It spread around the world at lightning speed and had more than 50 mutations than the original Wuhan variant.

Most of the mutations occur in the spike protein that increases the virus’s ability to infect cells and helps it evade antibodies in vaccinated or previously infected people. Other mutations were very rare and left scientists puzzled.

Omicron variants are so different from the original virus that scientists have wondered if it did not evolve in another animal host before jumping back to humans.

Another theory is that Omicron evolved within a single patient who may have been ill for a very long time. This patient would likely have had a weakened immunity when they caught the virus.

Omicron statistics show the virus is less severe and symptoms last for a shorter period than earlier variants, and deaths and hospitalizations have gone down in most countries. Nevertheless, its high level of contagiousness means it infects many more people and presents a threat to healthcare systems.

Since Omicron emerged and took over the world, the only new concerning strains of the virus have been an array of Omicron subvariants. New types of Omicron continue to emerge.

Omicron Variants in the USA

When you hear the word Omicron, you are likely thinking of the first version to spread across the globe. This is the variant scientists named BA.1. 

In January, BA.1 was the dominant Omicron variant in the United States. It is estimated that 37 million Americans got sick with COVID-19 during the first Omicron wave. However, by March, the variant had largely been replaced by a genetically distinct Omicron subvariant known as BA.2.

BA.2 has also been nicknamed ‘stealth Omicron’ because it contains genetic mutations that can make it harder to distinguish from the Delta variant. BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1 but is not more virulent.

By April, subvariants began branching out from BA.1.

One subvariant, BA.2.12.1, is rapidly spreading in the United States, which lead scientists to believe it is even more contagious still.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in late May, BA.2 accounted for 50.9 percent of cases in the United States. BA.2.12.1 is now estimated at 47.5 percent. This subvariant is more prevalent in the Northeast of the country.

The rise in cases has led to an 18.8 percent increase in weekly cases. There were over 100,000 infections in the United States last week, compared to around 85,000 the week prior.

Just over one percent of cases are now made up of the other Omicron subvariants. These include BA.1, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5.

Other Variants Threatening the United States

Viruses mutate every time they replicate, which can lead to errors as well as massive advantages, helping them spread faster.

In other parts of the world, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5 have displaced the other variants. In particular, BA.4 and BA.5 have become dominant in South Africa, where cases have tripled since mid-April, easily taking over the previous variants.

Experts keeping an eye on the pandemic believe it is likely that these variants will also begin to spread further in the United States.

In these two sub-variants, the spike protein has six mutations compared to BA.2. This makes it even better at escaping antibodies and weakens immunity from earlier infections. What this means is that even if you had Omicron BA.1 back in January, your antibodies would not protect you. There is no sign yet that these two Omicron subvariants cause more severe illness.

But vaccination is still one of the best bets to protect you. Studies show that even against the newer variants, having both doses of a vaccine as well as a booster shot can protect you from hospitalization or serious illness.

Scientists are still studying the full impact of current medication available against the new variants. So far, BA.1 and BA.2 have shown an ability to evade most monoclonal antibody treatments authorized in the United States.

The array of Omicron offshoots is seen as a sign that COVID-19 is still adapting and more waves of the virus are likely every few months. Some see hope in the fact that Omicron seems less severe. However, studies are ongoing as to whether this has to do with vaccination or other factors.

Omicron Symptoms and Prevention

The classic symptoms of COVID-19 with earlier variants were a loss of smell and taste, a fever, and a persistent cough.

With Omicron, some of the main symptoms have come to resemble cold symptoms. Doctors report seeing a lot of people with sore throats and inflammation of the pharynx. A congested nose, body aches, and fatigue are also common symptoms.

Coughing and fevers still occur, as can headaches, nausea or vomiting, and gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea.

A study in the United Kingdom showed that between BA.1 and BA.2, there had not been huge differences in symptoms. A runny nose and tiredness have slightly increased.

The best way to protect yourself against Covid-19 remains vaccination. Only 67 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

It is still recommended to wear a mask when in a crowded area, especially if you are at risk. You don’t need to wear one outdoors.

If in Doubt, Get Tested

One of the most important weapons to combat the spread of the virus is COVID-19 testing. Don’t assume you only have a cold or influenza. You may have one of the Omicron variants, and are putting others at risk. If you test positive, remember to isolate for at least five days.

If you think you may have COVID-19, buy one of our at-home antigen or at-home PCR Tests today.

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