As much as the public wants to put COVID-19 far behind them, it’s clear the virus is not yet done taking its toll. Even though cases are beginning to decline in the U.S.—or at least the ones that are reported—they remain relatively high, with a national average of 99,832 new infections daily as of Aug. 15, according to The New York Times. The latest hurdle in taking on COVID has been the emergence of the BA.5 subvariant, which has some specific symptoms that differentiate it from previous versions of the virus. New research is helping to pinpoint exactly what you should be on the lookout for if you think you’re coming down with COVID. Read on to see which symptoms doctors say could be a sign of BA.5.
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, the fight against COVID-19 has involved trying to stay ahead of new variants that affect the body differently. The latest foe is the Omicron subvariant BA.5, which became the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. in early July and is now responsible for 88.8 percent of current cases nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from the week ending on Aug. 13.
Fortunately, research has shown the Omicron variant and its offshoots to be a more mild version of the virus, producing less severe illness and death in those it infects—especially in those vaccinated and boosted, per the CDC. But as with previous lineages, studies have shown that people who contract the BA.5 subvariant tend to display different symptoms than those with Delta or Alpha. Now, research has shown which signs you should look for if you think you’re getting sick.
More than two years of dealing with the pandemic have made the public wary of specific warning signs of COVID we believe signal the onset of the virus. But a team of Norwegian researchers was able to pinpoint what symptoms Omicron and the BA.5 subvariant might actually cause, using a case study of an outbreak at a holiday party in late November that was published in the journal Eurosurveillance. After interviewing 111 out of 117 guests—89 of whom had received two doses of an mRNA vaccine but no booster—the scientists found that 66 people had tested positive for COVID, and 15 more were likely infected with the virus, per The Independent.
Researchers were then able to narrow down the reported symptoms from each of the infected party guests. They found that the most common were a nagging cough, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue or lethargy, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, fever, and sneezing.
Besides the results of the study, health officials in the U.K. also used the arrival of Omicron to update the potential symptom list, adding nausea in April. At the same time, experts have also noted that previously common symptoms such as loss of taste and smell or shortness of breath have become less common with the latest subvariant, according to The Times.
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While the updated list of potential symptoms may make it easier to tell if you’re coming down with BA.5, the list is also quite similar to those caused by other common viruses. In some cases, it can be hard to distinguish what’s actually COVID without a test.
“[This strain is] causing bad cold to flu-like illness,” Pritish Tosh, MD, an infectious diseases doctor and researcher at Mayo Clinic, told HuffPost in a July interview.
Others say that even some of the basic symptoms are appearing more intensely as BA.5 spreads. In a July interview with The Times, Joseph Khabbaza, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic, said he had seen an increase in patients reporting painful sinus congestion and severely sore throats they likened to strep.
But even if the virus is beginning to resemble more familiar illnesses, it’s still seriously affecting some patients. “If you talk to the average person who had COVID, many will tell you it’s the sickest they’ve ever been without going to the hospital,” David Souleles, the director of the COVID-19 Response Team at the University of California, Irvine, told HuffPost.
Even though the latest subvariant may be new, the symptoms it’s causing are not unfamiliar to most people. Doctors say treating some of the most common BA.5 ailments could be as simple as looking to basic remedies for relief—especially for taking care of a sore throat.
“The best approaches are typically what grandma would advise,” Michelle Prickett, MD, a pulmonology and critical care specialist at Northwestern Medicine, told The Times. She advises taking in plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and help reduce inflammation in the throat. She also recommends gargling a warm salt water solution a few times daily to help ease the pain. In addition, she says patients can manage other symptoms by taking over-the-counter cold medicines.