While the COVID-19 omicron BA.5 subvariant comprised the overwhelming majority of cases in the summer, new variants are beginning to take hold as we move through autumn. At one point in August, BA.5 was responsible for over 99% of new COVID-19 cases. Now, it accounts for only 67% of new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As they proliferate, viruses mutate to help them survive—this is the cause of the omicron subvariants and newer strains. BA.4.6, BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and BF.7 are mutations of BA.4 and BA.5 that are beginning to take hold in the country as BA.5 transmissions continue to fall. Some mutations found in newer strains include a higher rate of transmission and immunity evasion.
Symptoms of COVID-19 and new omicron variants
To date, there are no known differing symptoms associated with the omicron variant and thus, its subvariants. As new strains are descended from omicron, it’s possible that there won’t be any new symptoms associated with them, though this can’t be known definitively until more data is gathered. The CDC carefully monitors new variants using genomic surveillance and uses those findings to inform and protect the public as the coronavirus continues to evolve. Consult your medical provider to figure out the best plan for treating your symptoms. According to the CDC, these are the symptoms common to COVID-19 across variants:
Fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea
How to protect yourself from the new omicron variants
The good news is that health experts believe that the new bivalent booster offers some protection against the new strains, as the vaccine is designed to boost immunity against BA.4 and BA.5, which the strains derive from. The CDC urges Americans to stay up to date with the vaccinations to protect themselves and others, though it should be noted that COVID-19 infection is still possible even after booster shots. Here are some products to help you curb the spread and protect yourself.
Wear a mask in areas of high transmission
Masks remain an effective way to curb the spread of COVID-19, as properly filtered masks prevent inhaling the airborne particles that cause transmission of the virus. As cloth masks aren’t as effective at filtering tiny particles, particularly the ones responsible for the omicron variant, health officials recommend that individuals opt for three-ply masks such as N95 and K95. Both masks have 95% filtration efficiency, meaning they’re the gold standard when it comes to protection. While there are many places to buy these masks online, you should take caution and avoid sellers who offer counterfeit masks, which offer less protection.
Sanitize surfaces with disinfectant wipes
According to the CDC, COVID-19 can spread via surfaces if someone touches their eyes, nose or mouth after touching a contaminated surface, though it’s less likely than via airborne particles. To protect yourself and others, it’s recommended to disinfect surfaces (and your hands) often. Disinfectant wipes can be used to clean highly-touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, keyboards and shelf handles.
Clean your hands with sanitizer
Using hand sanitizer will ensure that even if you do touch an infected surface, you won’t pass the virus onto yourself or others. Hand sanitizers comprised of 60% or more alcohol are effective in killing germs. Keeping a travel-sized bottle in your purse or pocket is a convenient way to make sure you’re always protected from germs and viruses even while on the go. If you’re home or in another place with soap, it’s better to wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
Protect your home with an air purifier
An air purifier offers another way to protect against COVID-19, as it can reduce the presence of airborne contaminants in a given space, including COVID-19 particles. The CDC recommends putting an air filter in an area where the most people spend the most time (i.e. a living room), though there are instances where placing it in another location is preferable such as in the room of an immune-compromised member of your household. Regardless of where you decide to put your air purifier, you’ll want to make sure you have an effective one. We recommend the Medify MA-50, which we found to be the best HEPA air purifier after extensively testing many different air purifier options. A HEPA filter is the most effective at filtering the tiny aerosols responsible for COVID-19. The Medify MA-50 covers a large area while maintaining efficiency.
Test yourself at home to prevent the spread
Even if you take all the precautions to protect yourself from the virus, it can still sneak up on you. If you’re feeling under the weather, you should take an at-home test to catch your illness early on and prevent the spread to others. This is particularly true if you find yourself with symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath and a cough, among other possible symptoms. Symptoms can often be similar to those of the flu, but with an at-home test, you’ll have results for COVID-19 in as little as 15 minutes.