The Latest Omicron Subvariant: What is Omicron BF.7?
After challenging the world with many variants and waves for over two and a half years, SARS-CoV-2 continues to form new variants and subvariants. The emergence and circulation of the Omicron variant along with its several subvariants, such as BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5 has transformed the course of the pandemic. In response to the continuous mutations of SARS-CoV-2, the efforts for the development of more efficient vaccines, treatments, and test kits have accelerated. However, the recent emergence and rapid spread of yet another Omicron subvariant caused significant concern among experts. Scientists are taking notice of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant because it is already making headway among an increasing number of Omicron subvariants. Read along to find out more about the latest Omicron variant, its current prevalence, symptoms, and characteristics, along with ways to protect yourself.
What is the Omicron BF.7 subvariant?
Given its recent emergence, data on the characteristics of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant remains scarce. The Omicron BF.7 subvariant was initially detected in Northwest China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Known to circulate in USA and Europe since August 2022, the Omicron BF.7 subvariant is currently also thought to be responsible for the recent surge in China. Indeed, after the initial detection of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant in the Yantai and Shaguan districts of China in late September, China has reported a peak of 1,878 cases on 9 October, which are largely attributed to the latest Omicron subvariants BF.7 and BA.5.1.7.
How common is the Omicron BF.7 subvariant?
Soon after its emergence, the Omicron BF.7 has quickly spread through several districts of China and has recently been reported in many countries around the world in increasing prevalence, such as Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to data by GISAID, as of October 21, the Omicron BF.7 subvariant is most common in Belgium (1825), Denmark (1772), the United States (1293), Germany (1189), France (1156), the United Kingdom (1032), and the Netherlands (1293). Altogether, the Omicron BF.7 subvariant accounts for around 0.51% of all cases with 12,112 cases in total.
What are the symptoms of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that infections with the Omicron BF.7 subvariant presents with any unique signs and symptoms. Although it may be too early to conclude for sure, it is expected that the Omicron BF.7 subvariant will present with symptoms typical to other subvariants of the Omicron lineage. These symptoms may include congestion, sore throat, cough, fatigue, and runny nose.
How concerned should we be about the Omicron BF.7 subvariant?
Despite its recent emergence, the Omicron BF.7 subvariant is increasingly gaining the attention of scientists due to its rapid growth among other versions of the Omicron lineage. Indeed, the subvariant has already grown to constitute a significant share of total cases in many of the countries mentioned above. Accordingly, it has been classified as a variant of concern by several countries, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning against the Omicron BF.7 subvariant with the expectation that it may become the next dominant variant.
While the data on the subvariant remains insufficient and the overall risk assessment may be altered with the emergence of new evidence, early studies on the increasing prevalence and mutational profile of the BF.7 subvariant is raising questions regarding whether it can be more transmissible and/or more evasive to vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity. In other words, early estimations suggests that the Omicron BF.7 subvariant may have an enhanced ability to transmit among people and cause reinfections. Indeed, according to the latest data by GISAID, it is estimated that the Omicron BF.7 subvariant has a relative growth advantage of around 35% per week. However, the exact impact of the mutational profile of BF.7 to vaccine efficacy, treatment effectiveness, and diagnostic accuracy is yet to be determined. Likewise, while no unique symptoms have been reported with regards to infections with the Omicron BF.7 subvariant, there are currently no epidemiological reports on the severity of disease caused by BF.7.
How can you protect yourself against the Omicron BF.7 subvariant?
Although much about the Omicron BF.7 subvariant remains unknown, experts all around the world are emphasizing that vaccination remains the most effective strategy against SARS-CoV-2. Despite the concern caused by the continuous emergence and circulation of new versions of the virus with regards to the efficacy and durability of vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity, keeping up to date with vaccines and boosters is advised. Indeed, our current vaccines and boosters are known to offer sufficient protection against severe disease and death regardless of the variant or subvariant causing the infection. Moreover, scientists are also working on a second generation of COVID-19 vaccines containing multiple strains of SARS-CoV-2, engineered proteins, self-amplifying RNA, and protein nanoparticles to improve and prolong the immunity acquired through vaccination against the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.
On the other hand, testing and surveillance remain critical for the management of potential outbreaks and the prevention of further transmission. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the mutational profile of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant has significant impact on the performance of the current diagnostic tests. Likewise, until further notice, the sensitivity, specificity, and the overall accuracy of molecular testing and antigen-based testing in the detection of the Omicron BF.7 subvariant is expected to be on par with that observed with other strains of Omicron.
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