Looks like Covid pandemic isn’t over yet as newer variants of the deadly virus emerge every few months. Most recently multiple sub-variants of Omicron have been detected in various parts of the world. Health regulators at US recently estimated that BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 sub-variants of Omicron accounted for 16.6% of coronavirus variants in the country. BQ.1 and BQ 1.1, who are the descendants of Omicron BA.5 have been responsible for causing huge spike in the number of cases – nearly double in a week’s time in the US. The first case of the highly infectious strain BQ.1 has been detected in India in Maharashtra which has sparked concerns of a fresh wave in coming months. (Also read: Omicron BF.7 in India; experts on symptoms of new Covid variant, possibility of fresh wave in Diwali)
Winter is known to being new coronavirus waves in the recent past and while people are becoming a bit lax in following social distancing, wearing masks and using sanitisers nowadays, experts say it’s high time people start following these norms to avoid getting infected. It is also advised to self-isolate if one gets flu-like symptoms – classic signs of omicron and its new-emerging variants
Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1: Why are they troublesome?
“As the world is witnessing a general decline in the number of Covid-19 positive cases and hospitalisations, the new emerged variants of Omicron – BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have doubled the cases in the US in the past two weeks. In a couple of weeks, these variants of the sub lineage of BA.5 virus has led to 11% of the total cases in the US. As per scientific data, these are ‘troublesome’ variants and have higher transmissibility and capacity to evade human immune responses due to vaccination or previous infections,” says Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Consultant Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist, Head, Ameri Health, Asian Hospital, Faridabad.
“Omicron BQ.1 is a subvariant of Omicron variant which was recently reported from Pune, Maharashtra. The concern is the mutation that the virus is carrying and is able to evade existing host immunity and also the current treatment of antibody cocktail treatment. As winters approach, we know that flu and coronaviruses are able to survive for longer period in environment. Last year also we had seen rise in cases of Covid in December-January and especially with festive season around when we see lot of people meeting each other and with people refraining from masks these days, the chances of spurt of Covid cases are there,” says Dr Ankita Baidya, Consultant – Infectious Disease, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka.
Dr Arora says while the cases are yet to be identified in India except the only one in Pune but genomic sequencing is the key for epidemiological purposes.
How deadly is Omicron BQ.1?
Dr Piyush Goel, Consultant Pulmonology, Manipal Hospital, Gurugram says it’s very early to say right now. “We do have few patients of Covid in our hospital, they are little sick, but we didn’t do genetic analysis of covid variant, but I think we should be cautious of coming variants. I appeal to people around to wear mask whenever in public places,” says Dr Goel.
Will vaccine work on new Omicron variants?
Dr Arora says since both these variants are from the sub lineage of BA.5 of Omicron of Covid-19 virus, there should be protection from the booster shots.
“At least the vaccination shots will protect us from severity of illness, hospitalisations and death,” says the expert.
Symptoms of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1
“The symptoms of these variants are almost the same as before including fever, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, body pain and difficulty breathing,” says Dr Arora.
Precautions against new Omicron variants
Dr Baidya says if somebody has flu like symptoms in this season, they must get checked for Covid infection.
“We have a rapid antigen testing kit also available in the market. Test yourself and make sure isolation is also done on time. Don’t spread the infection. You can also go for Covid vaccination if you haven’t taken the booster shot yet. Also, the flu vaccine that is recommended should be taken by elderly, people with diabetes, heart disease, cancer patients, transplant patients or people with bad immunity,” says Dr Baidya.
“For us to emerge victorious against the Covid-19 virus, it is important to follow all precautions and minimise the spread. Follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and cough etiquette religiously. If you have any symptoms, then you must get yourself tested and isolate to prevent transmission. With the festivities in full swing and winters approaching, such precautions will help in minimising the number of cases,” says Dr Arora.