The emergence of a new enemy of COVID-19, already transmissible

The emergence of a new enemy of COVID-19, already transmissible

If you’ve recently had COVID-19 or know someone who has, and probably do, you can probably blame BA.5, one of the five omicron subvariants and perhaps the most transmissible to date.

It is now the predominant strain in Maryland as well as nationally, and, along with a close relative, BA.4, accounts for 70% of cases in the United States. Not only are they contagious, they are also adept at evading people’s immune defenses, making them a particular threat.

“What that means is that there is a smaller mound for the virus to go through,” said Andrew Pekos, a professor of immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has been studying the coronavirus. “We will see a lot of injuries and infections.”

That would be an infection in people who have been vaccinated and boosted, as well as people who have been infected during the last wave.

It’s another frustrating turn in the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, which experts say is once again calling for vigilance: wearing good-quality masks in the most dangerous situations, keeping distance, looking for well-ventilated indoor spaces, and getting every dose of vaccine people are eligible for.

The state and nation are seeing a surge in infections, with 1,918 new infections reported Monday, up from a few hundred per day in mid-March, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The final outcome is unknown but it is certainly much higher because many people test at home and do not report results.

However, the percentage of people who have officially tested positive in a government or commercial laboratory is also increasing. It was 9.76% on Monday, nearly double the standard threshold of 5% indicating community spread. The CDC considers prevalence in most of Maryland to be low or medium, with only Howard County as high, and designations largely correlated with the level of COVID-19 hospital admissions.

Chase Cook, a spokesman for the state health department, said officials are monitoring the pandemic and will provide guidance when necessary.

“Maryland is one of the most vaccinated states in the country,” he said. “We encourage everyone eligible in Maryland to get their vaccinations and boosters as soon as possible – safe and effective vaccines are available at hundreds of locations at covidvax.maryland.gov.”

It is not yet clear how much BA.5 affects hospitalization and mortality, although there are currently 553 People in hospital beds in Maryland. That’s more than five times the recent drop in mid-April of just over 100, but far from the January pandemic high of just over 3,460.

That number is rising, said Kathleen Nozel, director of the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, although the data does not show how many “or with them” have COVID-19. That is, the number of people who are in a hospital bed because they have COVID-19 or have just tested positive after seeking medical attention for something else.

Neuzil said the rise of BA.4 and BA.5 is not surprising because they have caused a lot of infections in Europe and South Africa, and the United States has been following those trends. I’ve been reluctant to predict exactly how cases will turn here or when they will peak, given the unpredictability of the virus and other variables, such as how much precaution Americans are taking in the absence of any mandates.

A third of the country’s population is still not immunized, and booster uptake is low so far. The rate of vaccinations for young children, which was recently allowed, is also low, prompting the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians to issue an open letter to parents urging them to vaccinate their children.

“COVID-19 is unpredictable, and we don’t know which children will have severe, long-lasting or debilitating symptoms,” the letter read. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has been among the leading causes of death in children over the past two years. Even healthy children without underlying medical conditions can experience short- and long-term health complications from COVID-19 that can affect their mental and physical health and quality of life. “

Neuzil also urged people to get vaccinated now before anything to come in the next few months. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for adults require two doses, and the Pfizer vaccine for young children requires three doses over time.

For the rest of the summer, she said, all outdoor activity could mean there’s no significant increase in cases. That’s to some extent what state and country models from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show, with cases even dropping a bit and then rising by fall.

She and Pecos say there is some good or less bad news. The number of seriously ill people from BA.5 is likely to be reduced due to the large number of people already vaccinated and infected. The body remembers how to fight off the worst of the virus, even if it can’t stop the infection.

There are also antiviral drugs that, if taken early, are effective in lowering the blow from COVID-19, Pecos said. Maryland has expanded its “Test-Treatment” program, allowing people to get tested at state locations and pharmacies and get their medication at the same time.

Neuzil said there may be another tool this fall, a vaccine that specifically covers BA.4 and BA.5. The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that the vaccine specifically protect against omicron sub-variants. If the data shows it can help, and advisors and regulators agree, it can be manufactured and made available as students return to school and people start spending more time indoors.

The Neuzil Center has been involved in testing several COVID-19 vaccines in use, and noted that changing the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to include new strains would not have to go through the same human trials to get permission.

But she and Pecos advised against waiting for the latest version of the vaccine. People should now go for vaccinations and boosters – those over 50 or immunocompromised are eligible for a second booster shot. People will likely qualify for another shot by the time one is available.

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The virus continues to evolve, Bikosch said, so maintaining defenses is critical.

“This virus is already exploring a lot of space,” he said. “It’s hard to predict how far this virus can go with all the new characteristics it has brought with it since it first appeared.”

In addition, the fall is likely to see the return of another virus, the flu. Largely absent for two seasons because people were hiding hard and taking other precautions, the flu spread across Australia, which American scientists consider a pioneering continent planning for the next flu season.

Pecos, a longtime flu researcher, said there is plenty of time to update the annual flu vaccine to catch circulating strains.

But he and Newell added that the fall could be brutal, as there are still lingering cases of influenza and other respiratory viruses reported from last season, in addition to COVID-19. People have also lost much of their natural immunity over time.

“The last two years we’ve been worried about the flu and haven’t seen much of it,” Newzel said.

“Be ready this winter,” she said. “Get a flu shot.”

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