WHO is tracking omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants as they are spreading all over Africa and Europe

WHO is tracking omicron BA4 and BA5 subvariants

April 19, 2022: According to the World Health Organization, Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are spreading at low levels in some countries within Southern Africa and Europe.

The two subvariants of the highly contagious Covid-19 strain have been detected in Botswana, South Africa, Germany, and Denmark, among other countries, whose technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said on Thursday.

She further said that BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to be more contagious or deadly than the original omicron mutation, but that can be changed as more cases are detected. Van Kerkhove emphasizes the need to maintain “robust” genome surveillance systems that allow countries to track and analyze the two subvariants and earlier versions of omicron.

“It is still early days. We have to make sure that we continue to have the ability to track, share, and analyze so that we can answer questions such as this,” Van Kerkhove said during a WHO briefing on social media.

Her remarks came after the WHO said it was tracking a few dozen cases of BA.4 and BA.5 and earlier omicron variants, including BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, and BA.1.1.

BA.2 is the dominant strain globally. It comes as the more contagious BA.2 subvariant advances across a few parts of the world, fueling a recent wave of Covid cases after the unprecedented surge caused by the original omicron variant, BA.1, during the winter. In the U.S., which makes up about 85% of sequenced recent cases is even more prevalent in the northeast region of the country, which represents about 92% of newly sequenced instances, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The earliest BA.4 sample was collected in South Africa on January 10. Still, data shows that the “accumulation of genomes” and geographic spread of the subvariant is more recent, according to a U.K.’s Health Security Agency released in the previous week. As of April 8, South Africa had reported 41 BA.4 cases, Denmark said three points, Botswana reported two, and England and Scotland reported one each.

“Although the number of total genomes is small, the geographic spread suggests that the variant is transmitting successfully,” the U.K. Health Ministry said in a report.

The report said 27 reported sequences of BA.5 as of April 8, all written in South Africa between February 25 to March 25. On Monday but Botswana’s health ministry said it had identified BA.4 and BA.5 cases among completely vaccinated individuals aged 30 to 50, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, the WHO began tracking BA.4 and BA.5 because they have new mutations “that need to be studied to understand their impact on immune escape potential,” according to Reuters.

According to a WHO report published on Wednesday, both subvariants have additional mutations in the spike region, a part of the virus that is used to invade human cells, and unique modifications outside of that region. Such transformations are associated with “potential immune escape characteristics,” the report said.

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WHO is tracking omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants
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WHO is tracking omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants
According to the WHO, Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are spreading at low levels in some countries within Southern Africa and Europe.
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