Covid: BA4 and BA5 symptoms, rate of infection and vaccine efficacy

A woman's hand holding a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19

There are two new subvariants of the Covid variant Omicron – leading to rising Covid cases (Picture: Getty)

Covid-19 case numbers are rising again, partly due to two Omicron subvariants – BA4 and BA5.

These mutations, first found in South Africa in January and February 2022, were named “Conern variants” by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in mid-May.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is now advising people to ensure they have all their Covid-19 vaccinations, while experts are calling for a new, Omicron-specific vaccine to tackle another wave of the virus.

Here’s what you need to know about BA4 and BA5.

What are the symptoms of the BA4 and BA5 Covid variants?

Although these are new subvariants, so far nothing suggests that BA4 or BA5 have any new symptoms.

Young woman coughing while feeling sick in bed

Watch out for Covid symptoms (Image: Getty)

As always the According to the NHS, the symptoms to watch out for are:

  • A high temperature
  • A new persistent cough
  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • headache
  • muscle pain all over the body
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • loss of appetite

Loss of smell or taste, or any change in those senses, are still considered Covid-19 symptoms – but studies have shown it’s less likely in omicron cases and more likely in alpha or delta variants.

How contagious are the Covid variants BA4 and BA5?

Scientists test Covid sample in a laboratory

Are there more Covid cases due to the new sub-variants? (Image: THIBAULT SAVARY/AFP via Getty)

The UKHSA said at the end of June 2022 that BA4 accounted for 22% of new cases in England, while BA5 accounted for 39%.

It also added that it appears BA5 is “probably” on course to become the dominant strain in the UK.

Cases are currently on the rise in the UK, with the latest UK government data (dated 20-26 June) reporting 116,312 confirmed cases in England in the last seven days, up 33% on the previous week.

An increase in hospital admissions was also reported.

But figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimate the number of cases in England was much higher – 1.82million for the week ending June 24 – with the UK estimate at 2.29million.

On July 3, the ZOE Covid Health Study – using data from its app – predicted 3.5million symptomatic cases across the UK.

The discrepancy in case numbers could be due to the decline in people regularly testing for Covid-19.

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The UKHSA’s senior medical adviser, Professor Susan Hopkins, has noted that ICU admissions and deaths have been at “low levels”.

She stated: “It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA4 and BA5 is significantly increasing the number of cases that we have observed over the past few weeks.

“We have seen an increase in hospital admissions consistent with community infections, but vaccination continues to keep ICU admissions and deaths at low levels.”

It’s also worth noting that the current numbers are still below Omicron’s March 2022 peak.

Do current vaccines work with the Covid variants BA4 and BA5?

It is too early to say with certainty how effective the existing BA4 and BA5 vaccines are.

Woman receives a Covid vaccine

Vaccinations are still considered protection against serious illnesses –

According to researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the US, which is part of Harvard Medical School, the current vaccines are expected to provide “substantial” protection against serious diseases.

dr Dan Barouch, director of virology and vaccine research at the center, said CNN on June 23 that the variants could lead to “waves of infection” in “high-immunity” populations.

Crucially, though, he said, “vaccine immunity is likely to still provide significant protection against severe disease with BA4 and BA5.”

UKHSA’s Professor Hopkins has urged Britain to ‘ensure that [they’re] up to date with Covid-19 vaccinations which remain our best defense against the virus.

She added: “It’s not too late to catch up if you’ve missed booster shots or even the first doses. So please take your recommended vaccines.”

Meanwhile, leading scientists in the UK have been calling for autumn boosters and updated vaccines.

And according to The Guardian, Moderna, Pfizer and other drug companies are all working on vaccines that use different techniques to target different Omicron variants.

MORE: New vaccine launch needed to stave off another Covid wave

MORE: Risk of long covid is lower with Omicron compared to Delta variant, research says

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Justin Scacco

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