For many in the US, COVID-19 seemed to be dying down, with life returning to normal. However, new variants continue to arise, infecting more people. The new BA.5 variant of COVID-19 was identified in the US in early July 2022. This new variant is an offshoot of the Omicron variant and is now the dominant variant. As of yet, not much is known about the BA.5 variant.
BA.5 is a much more potent variant than its predecessors. Mutations in the spike protein allow it to bypass immune defenses and infect cells, making the virus affect more people. Previously, people that contracted COVID-19 had temporary immunity, but that no longer applies with the new variant. More people are becoming reinfected because the virus is more transmissible and resistant to immune defenses. Additionally, vaccinated individuals are also less likely to avoid infection because the BA.5 is much stronger. As a result, the current COVID-19 situation is similar to the early wave of Omicron: many people are infected with the virus.
Reinfections are shown to not have benign effects either. The risk of new and possibly lasting health issues rises with each reinfection. Lingering effects of the virus-- such as respiratory conditions, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog-- and other conditions-- such as metabolic disease, cardiac disease, kidney disease, and diabetes-- are just a few such long term health issues arising.
BA.5 is not the only new variant of concern; BA.2.75 is also being watched closely. Little information is known of BA.2.75 as well, but this variant has mutations in the area of the spike protein that antibodies bind to. This means that antibodies may have a harder time preventing infection.
Ways to keep oneself safe have not changed since the beginning of the pandemic. Getting vaccinated is still the best way to ensure one does not suffer serious effects from COVID-19 if infected. Boosters have shown to be more effective at preventing serious infection, and a new vaccine will be released soon. Officials advise against waiting for a better vaccine and getting vaccinated with a booster as soon as possible. Masking, social distancing, and ventilation also continue to be effective methods of preventing infection.