The “nightmare variant” is not as bad as it sounds.
By Knvul Sheikh
As it gets colder and more people move their activities indoors, the recent decline in Covid-19 cases across the United States has started to level off. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are ticking up in a number of states, including Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Nevada, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. And there have been a variety of unnerving headlines about the immune evasion and increased transmissibility of the next round of coronavirus subvariants.
At least half a dozen versions of the virus are competing to become the next dominant strain in the United States, but they are part of the same family tree. “They are all offspring of Omicron,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a physician and epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. Though each subvariant has slightly different mutations, none of them seem to be creating significant waves just yet, the way the Delta and Omicron variants did when they first appeared, Dr. Ko said.
Here’s what experts know so far about the new subvariants and what their mutations may mean for repeat infections, symptoms, case spikes and treatment options.
Which subvariants are circulating right now? And what is the ‘nightmare variant’?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the BA.5 subvariant, which powered the summertime Covid-19 surge, still causes just under half of infections across the country. But two other subvariants are growing rapidly and are expected to outcompete BA.5 very soon: BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.