One kind of worrying COVID-19 to watch

Microscopic view of novel COVID-19 bacteria.  (stock photo)
While the infection levels of the new sub-variants are concerning, an even more troubling aspect is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to natural antibodies and certain antibody treatments. (stock photo)

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

As cooler weather sets in, COVID-19 cases in hospitals across the country are skyrocketing. However, as COVID-19 continues to divide, there is a new variant on the horizon that deserves recognition: the BQ.1.1 variant.

Detailed look at the COVID-19 BQ.1.1 variant

Different types of COVID-19 prevailed at different points during the pandemic. In early to mid summer, the infectious variant BA.5 COVID-19 spreads in Canada and other parts of the world. Now, just a few months after BA.5 subsided, UK epidemiologists are warning of variant BQ1.1 as the next release to watch.

How does BQ.1.1 differ from previous variants?

In the United States, BQ.1.1 infections double every week. To date, this prevalence rate is twice as fast as other leading subvariants. For example, the new BQ.1.1 spreads twice as fast as BA.2.75.2.

BQ.1.1 is a minor variant of the Omicron BA.5 variant. Recently updated boost snapshots should help protect against child variants.

BQ.1.1 is highly contagious

Some variants of COVID-19 are more contagious than others. Currently, the most infectious type of COVID-19 is the strain called BA.5.

BQ.1.1 is spreading across North America along with other infectious Omicron variants. Currently, sub-variants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 are responsible for more than 11 percent of new infections in the United States, while BA5 makes up 70 percent.

BQ.1.1 is resistant to some antibody treatments

While the infection levels of the new sub-variants are concerning, an even more troubling aspect is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to natural antibodies and certain antibody treatments. Experts noted earlier in the year that some BA.5 subtype variants can evade antibodies that people have built up through previous infections and vaccinations.

Reports indicate that BQ.1.1 may be the first variant that is completely resistant to antibody therapies, such as Evusheld and Bebtelovimab.

How effective is our vaccine with BQ.1.1?

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

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

Vaccine efficacy refers to how effective vaccines are in protecting the vaccinated population. It is still too early to definitively determine vaccine efficacy against BQ.1.1. However, it has developed a reputation as one of the most immuno-evasive variants of COVID-19.

Without adequate antibodies and vaccine solutions, the fight against the ever-changing sub-variants of COVID-19 will turn grim. Fortunately, the latest “bivalent” mRNA boosters are still proving effective against the virus.

What are the symptoms of BQ.1.1?

For now, the symptoms to watch out for are the same as those associated with other Omicron-related sub-variants. Sub-Omicron variants can have a shorter incubation time and faster onset of symptoms than other COVID-19 variants. The worst symptom is feeling like your throat is on fire.

The symptoms most commonly associated with BQ.1.1 and other Omicron sub-variants include:

  • Crowding

  • Coughing

  • Runny nose

  • fatigue

What to do if you contract BQ.1.1

If you think you may have contracted the new BQ1.1 variant or any type of COVID-19, do a rapid test and isolate for five days. As we approach the colder months, seasonal allergies, the flu, and the common cold will become more common. Many of these symptoms are shared with variant BQ.1.1, and keeping a home COVID-19 test kit on hand can help you differentiate COVID-19 from other seasonal illnesses.

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