You may have heard of that a new COVID-19 variant called ‘BA2’ was announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2022. As of early April, Omicron variant BA.2 is responsible for about 55 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States.
To help you understand what to expect from this latest version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, let’s explore what scientists are discovering about its transmission and infection rates, severity levels, and responses to standard treatments such as vaccines, antiviral drugs, and monoclonal antibody infusions.
Understanding the Newest COVID-19 Variant
The BA.2 Omicron variant is actually an Omicron COVID-19 subvariant. This means that it’s in the same genetic “family” as the original subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.1. This original BA.1 variant was responsible for the large increase in COVID-19 cases in the country in late 2021 and early 2022.
Because they are in the same family, the Omicron BA.2 variant and the Omicron BA.1 variant have many similarities – although a few key differences do exist. These differences are known as “genetic mutations”, and they can cause BA.2 to act in unique ways.
Here’s what scientists know so far about the BA.2 Omicron COVID-19 variant in relation to the original Omicron variant:
- Just like BA.1, Omicron BA.2 is a Variant of Concern (VOC), which means it displays genetic mutations that account for significant changes in symptoms, treatability, transmission, or infection rates.
- It is currently shown to be 30-60% more transmissible than the original BA.1 variant.
- Reinfection rates with BA.2 after BA.1 infection are considered “rare” right now, meaning having Omicron BA.1 builds immunity to Omicron BA.2.
- There is some preliminary research data suggesting symptoms are more severe in BA.2 than BA.1 for those with no immunity to SARS-CoV-2.
- Those with natural (had COVID-19) or vaccine-induced immunity show equal severity of symptoms between the two subvariants, and symptoms are generally milder than the Delta variant.
- Although there are 28 unique 2 genetic mutations, it’s key difference from other variants is shared with BA.1 – it can thwart antibody immune defenses at a much higher rate than the other variants.
- Antiviral drugs Paxlovid, molnupiravir and remdesivir, along with the Moderna and Pfizer third booster shots, seem to be the most effective treatments against BA.2. Monoclonal antibody treatments Evusheld (for infection prevention) and bebtelovimab (for mild symptoms) are also showing good results.
Omicron Variant BA.2 Symptoms
The BA.2 Omicron COVID-19 variant originated in South Africa and then traveled throughout Europe. It was first identified in November 2021, giving us have several month of data about its main symptoms. These are very similar to those found in Omicron BA.1, and include congestion, coughing and sore throat, headaches, runny nose, and sometimes fatigue and dizziness.
How Many COVID-19 Variants are There?
A 2022 COVID-19 Variants Update
The WHO has listed two main VOC as of April 2022, including Omicron and the Delta variant. This is down from four VOC in the summer of 2021 (although the Omicron variant includes several subvariants on the list, such as BA.1 and BA.2).
The good news is that the Lambda and Mu variants that entered the U.S. in summer 2021 and were considered ‘Variants of Interest (VOI)’ because they displayed genetic changes from the original variant have been downgraded to ‘Previously Circulating VOI’.
COVID-19 Delta variant levels have also decreased steadily in recent months, which is welcome news as well, since data indicates this variant may cause more severe lung infections than Omicron.
Perhaps the most promising news is that worldwide circulation of COVID-19 variants is on the decline.
What’s the Best COVID-19 Test for Omicron BA.2 Variant?
COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are molecular tests that track viral RNA to see if it is present in your body. They are used to determine if you have an active COVID-19 infection, including for the Omicron BA.2 variant.
In fact, these tests can determine if you have an infection no matter the variant because they detect the elements of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are common to them all.
The advantages of COVID-19 PCR tests over the ‘rapid antigen tests’ that track COVID-19 viral proteins, include better accuracy, more flexible collection methods, and more widespread acceptance for travel, including FDA Emergency Use Authorization.
At CommunityLab, we even offer you two different COVID-19 PCR test collection methods to fit your individual preferences:
- NO SWAB SALIVA: The SalivaDirect™ collection method is fast, non-invasive, highly sensitive, and uses a state-of-the-art laboratory evaluation method developed by Yale University to test saliva, which is self-collected into a tube.
- NASAL SWAB: The nasopharyngeal collection method is also highly sensitive and uses a swabbed sample of your nose and throat collected by a trained medical professional for testing.
Can the Same Test be Used at All Stages of Infection?
If you suspect you or someone you know may have an active COVID-19 infection, the best test method for COVID-19 is PCR testing. This type of test has been shown to offer the highest viral sensitivity, or COVID-19 positive accuracy rate (on average 94%) and viral specificity, or COVID-19 negative accuracy rate (on average 100%).
Some people want to find out if they may have been infected with the COVID-19 virus previously. An ‘IgM/IgG antibody can help determine prior infection.
Although not as accurate in determining if you have an active case of COVID-19 as the gold-standard PCR test, this rapid, serum/plasma test can be helpful for understanding your past medical history with the virus. For example, some people use it to determine if they may have had asymptomatic COVID-19 and are therefore at risk for developing Post COVID-19 condition (also known as Long COVID).
Finding COVID-19 Testing Near Me
At CommunityLab, we combine the dedication and fast results of a local, community-based testing center with the training, knowledge, and clinical expertise of a nationally accredited laboratory.
We provide you with next-level COVID-19 testing in Western North Carolina (WNC). Our premier drive-up testing offers numerous benefits, including:
- Two types of COVID-19 tests to help you capture your immune responses at the different COVID-19 viral phases
- Convenient pre-scheduling by phone or web so you don’t have to wait in a long line or wonder if we will be able to fit you in
- Drive-thru SalivaDirect™ or swab nasopharyngeal testing service – without leaving your automobile!
- Fast, 24-hour results that you can quickly access online or by phone
Contact CommunityLab today to schedule an appointment at our Arden, North Carolina location, and ask about our regional COVID-19 testing events and partnerships at area businesses and organizations in your WNC neighborhood.