Coronavirus Chronicles

Symptoms and More on the Covid BA.5 Subvariant in Seattle

The new omicron strain has familiar calling cards.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach August 2, 2022

That BA.5-induced urge to lie down and take a nap.

The alphabet soup of Covid variants continues to grow, but the symptoms we’ve come to recognize in those ubiquitous health screening questionnaires remain consistent. 

Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant—comprising more than 75 percent of the state’s Covid cases as of the Department of Health's July 27 report—most often shows up as a cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever and chills, muscle pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath. And the occasional loss of smell or bout of nausea. 

But BA.5 and its omicron siblings have “greatly diverged from the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strain” according to UW Medicine. Omicron’s mutated spike proteins allow the subvariant to bind with host receptors at more than six times the strength of the original Covid strain. It’s this highly transmissible and aggressive quality that worries experts as BA.5 grabs more and more shares of weekly infections around the country. 

The Centers for Disease Control has designated the newest strain a “variant of concern,” one step away from the most alarming category, “variant of high consequence.” While BA.5 appears to be easily transmissible and largely shirks immunity from prior infection or vaccination, those contracting this particular subvariant have better outcomes: Just 1.6 percent of Washington’s BA.5 cases have required hospitalization, and 0.3 percent have led to deaths. 

Now talk is shifting to the role of boosters. An international team of researchers, led by Dr. David Veesler at the University of Washington School of Medicine, studied booster protection and severe omicron-induced illness, comparing vaccines produced by Moderna, Pfizer, Novavax, Janssen (J&J), AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Sputnik V. Results showed people who received a booster after a previous infection or a primary vaccine series were better able to sidestep severe disease from omicron variations like BA.5.

Bottom line: It’s a good idea to get a booster if you haven't already, or whenever you're eligible to get a second booster. At least this time, it doesn’t require trolling vaccine websites and waiting hours in a drive-through line.

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