This article was originally published on October 30, 2022, but has been updated with current information.
Viruses change constantly as they circulate in the population, and these changes can sometimes create entirely new variations of the virus. This is certainly true of SARS-CoV-2.
Since its initial appearance about three years ago, the virus that causes COVID-19 has split into several distinct strainsinclusive Alpha, Beta, Delta and Omicron. And these strains have only continued to split into their own sub-variants at an astonishing rate.
One of these subvariants, BA.5, prevailed throughout summer season in 2022, contributing to the high number of coronavirus cases in the US during that time. that said several newer strains have since taken transform among the biggest culprits of coronavirus in the country.
Here’s what you’ll want to know about a few of these new sub-variants, including the BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and XBB.1.5.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1
In general, it is believed that the symptoms of the initial variant and subsequent subvariants are not more serious than those associated with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus (and are sometimes seen as More ▼ cure). However, the science is in its infancy, and scientists still consider these virus varieties a problem, as they all are. remarkably resistant to internal immunities from previous infections and vaccinations.
Experts say it’s this resilience that allowed BA.5 to spread widely across the U.S., and with a flurry, a few weeks ago. But according to Centers for Disease Control and Preventionthe voltage is already decreasing, which represents less than 3 percent of the current cases of coronavirus in the country.
And taking their place as the most common (and most worrisome) strains of SARS-CoV-2, several new sub-variants from the same family.
Take for example the two Omicron sub-variants known as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Originally identified in July 2022, both strains are direct descendants of BA.5. Now the combination of the two causes approx 45 percent of all coronavirus cases in the US, making them two of the most common strains in the country.
Although subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are not related to more severe symptoms than BA.5 or any other older variation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is clear that both are causing problems and may continue to cause problems in the coming weeks. In fact, preliminary studies show that a set of mutations of both BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 increases their ability to evade antibodies against stunning seven times over BA.5.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are not the only Omicron subvariants to worry about, nor are they the only Omicron subvariants armed with an arsenal of mutations to circumvent internal immunities. Some future variations of the virus, including varieties of the XBB family, for example, are not only as skilled as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 at evading antibodies, but also significantly better at invading cells, thanks to their adaptations.
These XBB varieties including XBB.1 and his direct descendant XBB.1.5, are amalgams of several older Omicron subvariants, but that doesn’t mean they’re weaker than the Omicron strains, which are all new. While XBB.1 appear in the US in September, XBB.1.5 appeared in October and is already the best option in terms of transmissibility, producing 43 percent of the cases of coronavirus in the country.
Since the beginning of January, XBB.1.5 has displaced both BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 as the top subvariant in the US (although the combination of the two is still slightly above the new strain). And that’s because XBB.1.5, while sharing a similar set of adaptations with older Omicron strains, also boasts a few special traits that make it even more portable.
The surfaces of all Omicron subvariants are coated with a mutated, deformed form of spike protein, which informs the way these subvariants interact with the outside world. In particular, these mutated spike proteins allow the Omicron strains to get past antibodies better than any previous versions of the virus, and the same is still true of XBB.1.5.
It is these mutations that make the Omicron subvariants so transmissible, although this increase in transmissibility tends to they come at a price, making it more difficult for these viruses to attach to the cells they seek to infect. More preliminary documents of XBB.1.5 paints a different picture, suggesting that the strain carries a few additional mutations that allow it to once again adhere tightly to cells.
Ultimately, whether it’s BQ.1, BQ.1.1 or XBB.1.5, scientists say all of these strains play a role in increasing infections. Cases are on the rise across the country, with the weekly tally of around 410,000, and may continue to increase as the winter season approaches. As such, these scientists advise people to remain cautious and continue to acquire theirs vaccinations to reduce the risk of coronavirus.
In fact, some research — though not all — suggest that since BQ and XBB are derived from Omicron, the divalent boosters that specifically target this family of viruses could provide additional protection against BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and XBB.1.5, despite their shared ability to evade antibodies.
Bonus Boston variant
The strains described above have evolved naturally as an inevitable byproduct of virus reproduction and replication. However, some scientists are also creating separate, artificial strains as a way to study SARS-CoV-2. Although these artificial variations are not varieties that we necessarily need I’m worried abouta specific one artificial variation recently received some attention this fall for its seemingly unusual death rates.
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After noticing that Omicron strains seemed to share similar peak protein mutations and similar mild symptoms, scientists at Boston University decided to develop their own unique variant of the virus. This strain combines the spike protein mutations typical of Omicron variants with other traits typical of older, non-Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2, all in an attempt to determine whether the structure of the spike protein is that which determines the severity of the disease after infection occurs.
The scientists tested their strain on mice. While their artificial variety killed a shocking 80 percent of the mice it was tested on, the older, non-Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2 without altered spike proteins were much more lethal, killing 100 percent of the test organisms.
The lethality rate of the scientists’ strain was relatively similar to the original SARS-CoV-2 variants without the altered spike proteins. The researchers therefore conclude that peak protein mutations do not determine the severity of COVID-19 symptoms when the disease develops.
Ultimately, although they couldn’t determine what determines the severity of symptoms, the good guess is that the Boston University variant is not in the mix of increasingly common strains like BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and XBB.1.5.