Omicron variant BA.2 is now the dominant COVID variant present in the US, making up 54.9 percent of all COVID infections in the country as of March 26, 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Jan. 24, the World Health Organization first identified BA.2 as a new variant of coronavirus that was increasing globally, and since then it has spread to over 40 countries and 17 of the United States, with over 550,000 cases recorded thus far. BA.2 has also been called "stealth omicron" due to its spike-protein differences from the original omicron variant, BA.1, which initial reports said made it harder to detect via PCR test. However, health officials are now calling that a misnomer, since PCR and antigen tests are able to detect the BA.2 variant, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The good news: it doesn't appear any more dangerous than other COVID variants. The level of concern for this rapidly spreading variant is about the same as previous strains we've encountered, explains Waleed Javaid, MD, hospital epidemiologist and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown. "Any COVID illness is cause [for] concern and should be prevented with vaccination. . . The [BA.2] variant is still a SARS-CoV-2 virus," he states.
Here's everything you need to know about the BA.2 variant.
Is Omicron Variant BA.2 More Contagious?
According to a Swedish study by the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet, BA.2 is more contagious than BA.1 — in fact, according to the University of California, Davis, BA.2 appears to be about 50 percent more transmissible than BA.1 and appears to be affecting more young people. There have also been reports that people who were infected with BA.1 were infected with BA.2 shortly after, suggesting that it can overcome vaccine or previous infection immunity, according to UC Davis.
What Are Common BA.2 Symptoms?
At this time, it's unclear whether illness caused by the BA.2 variant is more or less severe in comparison to other iterations of the virus, Dr. Javaid says. "It's likely slightly less severe, but that may be due to previous vaccinations or infections," he notes.
As for the symptoms of BA.2, Dr. Javaid says that they "are the same as what has been discussed for all other [COVID] variants." UC Davis notes that there's some evidence that fewer people infected with omicron (any variant) lose their taste and smell compared to other variants.
In case you need a reminder, the CDC's list of common COVID symptoms includes:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Does COVID Variant BA.2 Show Up on COVID Tests?
Yes, COVID tests can detect the BA.2 variant, though they won't specify the cause of infection as BA.2, according to Dr. Jarvaid. "Tests that are available to the public (PCR and rapid tests) do not detect variants (like BA.2), they detect the virus. It is not possible, currently, to know which variants caused their specific infection," he says.
Are the Vaccines Effective Against the BA.2 Variant?
All current COVID vaccines are as effective at preventing BA.2 as they have been at protecting against previous strains, Dr. Javaid says. In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, "neutralizing antibody titers against BA.2 were similar to those against BA.1" after participants were given three doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Meaning between variants BA.1 and BA.2, the vaccine had the same level of efficacy in creating antibodies against the coronaviruses.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself Against BA.2
To protect yourself against BA.2, follow the same CDC recommended protocols as you would for any other coronavirus strain:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Stay at least six feet away from others when possible
- Wear a mask in indoor public areas
- Avoid environments with little ventilation
- Get vaccinated (and boosted once or twice, if eligible)
- Keep track of your health and look out for any of the symptoms above
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.