What Is the COVID-19 BA.2 Variant?

Reviewed on 3/25/2022

Rendering of coronavirus
The COVID-19 BA.2 variant is a subtype of the “stealth” Omicron variant, which is more contagious and causes less severe symptoms.

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a novel coronavirus, one not previously identified in humans, that was responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is a newer strain of the virus that spreads more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19, however, Omicron infection generally causes less severe disease than infection with prior variants.

The COVID-19 BA.2 variant is a subtype of the Omicron variant, sometimes referred to as “stealth” Omicron. The original variant of Omicron is called BA.1. 

The Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, and previous variants, including Delta. The COVID-19 BA.2 subvariant is 1.5 times more transmissible than the original Omicron strain. 

Studies so far indicate that the current coronavirus vaccines are effective against the COVID-19 BA.2 variant (“stealth” Omicron). 

What Are Symptoms of the COVID-19 BA.2 Variant?

Symptoms of the COVID-19 BA.2 variant are similar to previous variants and may include:

Emergency warning signs of COVID-19 that require immediate medical attention (call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital’s emergency department): 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish lips or face
  • New confusion or inability to arouse

How Is the COVID-19 BA.2 Variant Diagnosed?

All variants of COVID-19 are diagnosed with a medical history which includes any recent known exposure to COVID-19, and a physical exam to check for symptoms of COVID-19. 

If COVID-19 is suspected tests used to diagnose the virus include: 

  • PCR tests (genetic or molecular test) 
    • Results can take hours to up to one week
    • More accurate than an antigen test
  • Antigen test
    • Results are available in less than one hour
    • Less accurate than a PCR test

An antibody test may be used to determine if a person had a past COVID-19 infection, but it is not used to diagnose current infections because it takes up to 3 weeks following infection for the body to produce antibodies to the virus. 

Regular COVID tests do not test for variants. Testing for variants requires genomic sequencing, which not all labs can do and it can be expensive. State health departments may run tests to help determine prevalence of a particular variant in that state, but it is unlikely individual patients would learn which variant they are infected with.

What Is the Treatment for the COVID-19 BA.2 Variant?

There is no current cure for COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms in mild to moderate cases. Treatment for the COVID-19 BA.2 variant is the same as for other variants. 

Patients with mild to moderate illness are usually advised to remain home and self-isolate for up to 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. Treatments for mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms may include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers 
  • Cough suppressants
  • Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets, co-packaged for oral use)
  • Molnupiravir
  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids 

Current guidelines neither recommend, nor advise against the use of vitamin C, vitamin D, or zinc for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Zinc should not be taken in doses above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) due to the risk of toxicity. 

For more severe COVID-19 cases, patients may require hospitalization. Treatments may include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies 
  • Antiviral therapy with remdesivir 
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Immunotherapy 
    • Convalescent plasma
    • Immunoglobulin products
    • Interleukin inhibitors
    • Interferons
    • Kinase inhibitors
  • Antithrombotic therapy: anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy 
  • High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen 
  • Ventilation 

Studies on hydroxychloroquine have shown it to be ineffective with a high risk of fatal heart arrhythmias, and it is not recommended to treat COVID-19. 

The medication ivermectin has also been suggested as a possible treatment for COVID. Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19 and taking large doses of ivermectin is dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. 

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Reviewed on 3/25/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions

https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-clinical-features?search=covid19&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H2222473005

https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-monoclonal-antibody-treatment-covid-19

https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-additional-monoclonal-antibody-treatment-covid-19

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/5-things-to-know-delta-variant-covid

https://covid.joinzoe.com/us-2

https://www.who.int/news/item/22-02-2022-statement-on-omicron-sublineage-ba.2

https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-ba2-or-stealth-omicron-subvariant