A worrisome COVID-19 variant to keep an eye on

Microscopic view of a novel COVID-19 bacterium.  (stock image)

While the levels of transmission of the new subvariables are worrying, even more worrying is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to our natural antibodies and to certain antibody therapies. (stock image)

While Canadians are being urged to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines, many are wondering when the pandemic will end.

With the cooling of the weather, COVID-19 cases are increasing in hospitals across the country. However, as COVID-19 continues to crumble, there is a new variant on the horizon that deserves acceptance: variant BQ.1.1.

A detailed look at the COVID-19 variant BQ.1.1

Different COVID-19 variants have prevailed at various points during the pandemic. From early to mid-summer, the contagious BA.5 COVID-19 subvariate swept Canada and other parts of the world. Now, just months after BA.5 has subsided, epidemiologists in the UK are warning of subvariable BQ1.1 as the next release to follow.

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How is BQ.1.1 different from previous variants?

BQ.1.1 infections are doubling every week in the US. So far, this rate of propagation is twice that of the other leading subvariables. For example, the new BQ.1.1 is spreading twice as fast as BA.2.75.2.

BQ.1.1 is a sub-variant of the Omicron variant BA.5. Recently updated booster vaccines will help protect against the subvariable.

BQ.1.1 is highly contagious

Some variants of COVID-19 are more contagious than others. Currently, the most contagious COVID-19 variant is BA.5.

BQ.1.1 is spreading in North America along with other infectious Omicron varieties. Currently, subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 are responsible for more than 11 percent of new infections in the United States, while BA5 accounts for 70 percent.

BQ.1.1 is resistant to certain antibody therapies

While the levels of transmission of the new subvariables are worrying, even more worrying is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to our natural antibodies and to certain antibody therapies. Experts noted earlier in the year that certain BA.5 sub-variants may be able to survive antibodies that people have formed through previous infections and vaccines.

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Reports indicate that BQ.1.1 may be the first subvariable to completely resist antibody treatments such as Evusheld and Bebtelovimab.

What is our vaccine efficacy with BQ.1.1?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a COVID-19 booster followed by a flu shot at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Canada, November 9, 2022.  REUTERS/Blair Gable

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a COVID-19 booster followed by a flu shot at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Vaccine efficacy refers to how effective vaccines are in protecting the vaccinated population. It is too early to definitively state the efficacy of the vaccine against BQ.1.1. However, it is gaining a reputation as one of the most immune-escaping COVID-19 variants to emerge.

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Without adequate antibodies and vaccine solutions, the fight against constantly mutating sub-variants of COVID-19 becomes brutal. Fortunately, the latest “bivalent” messenger-RNA enhancers are still proving to be effective against the virus.

What are the symptoms of BQ.1.1?

The symptoms to watch out for at this time are the same as those associated with other Omicron-related subvariants. Omicron subvariants may have a shorter incubation period and faster onset of symptoms than other COVID-19 variants. The worst symptom is feeling like your throat is on fire.

The most common symptoms associated with BQ.1.1 and other Omicron subvariants include:

  • blockage

  • Cough

  • runny nose

  • burnout

What should you do if you contract with BQ.1.1?

If you think you may have the new BQ1.1 subvariant or any variant of COVID-19, do a rapid test and isolate for five days. Seasonal allergies, the flu, and the common cold will also become more common as we enter the colder months. Many of these share the same symptoms as subvariable BQ.1.1, and having a COVID-19 home test kit on hand can help you differentiate between COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses.

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