Los Angeles Times
NEW OMICRON STRAIN FOUND IN COUNTY
Subvariant BA.2.75, spreading in India, may increase risks caused by reinfection.
Even as Los Angeles County remains in the grips of a coronavirus surge fueled by the Omicron subvariant BA.5, another strain that’s causing concern in India has been found locally.
Designated BA.2.75, the subvariant is being monitored by the World Health Organization.
As of Thursday, six cases had been identified in the U.S., including two in California, with one of those in L.A. County, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“It does appear to have additional mutations that facilitate spread and evade immunity,” she said during a briefing. “And it’s been spreading fairly rapidly across India.”
Scientists are exploring whether the emergence of BA.2.75 could prolong or exacerbate the surge fueled by BA.5 — another highly infectious member of the Omicron family.
“Whenever there’s an identified new variant of concern — or, in this case, a lineage that’s under monitoring — we do need to proceed with caution, as it takes time to better understand the risks that may be posed by this newly mutated virus,” Ferrer said.
Over the week that ended Saturday, BA.5 made up an estimated 65% of new coronavirus cases nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I hope BA.5 sticks around, because then people will have some reprieve, and then the curves go down,” said Dr. Peter ChinHong, an expert in infectious diseases at UC San Francisco. “But if BA.2.75 [spreads], that adds another variable in the mix.”
Such an occurrence, he said, would raise the possibility that “you’ll see a whole bunch of people passing different things back and forth, and they’ll get some
thing that they didn’t get before.”
A dizzying number of subvariants has emerged since Omicron first landed on California’s shores around Thanksgiving.
Since April, three subvariants — BA.2, BA.2.12.1 and BA.5 — are estimated to be the dominant strain nationwide.
That has made it possible for people to get reinfected within a relatively short period of time. Since the start of the pandemic, some people have reported getting infected two, three or even four times.
“It takes time to determine with certainty the ability of a newly mutated virus to evade immunity protections to easily infect others and to cause severe illness,” Ferrer said. “Until we have a sense of how the virus is interacting with us with these new variants, using sensible precautions remains a very good idea.”
Previously, scientists suspected that people infected with the coronavirus had several months of particularly strong immunity to protect against reinfection. But now, some patients are reporting getting reinfected within weeks.
One of them is Xavier Becerra. The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tested positive in Sacramento in mid-June — 3½ weeks after testing positive while visiting Berlin.
Getting reinfected with the coronavirus may increase long-term health consequences. Even one infection is associated with increased risk of death and other symptoms.
Reinfection has been associated with additional risk of death, hospitalization and adverse health outcomes, affecting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and renal systems.
It has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, fatigue and mental health disorders, according to a preprint study written by scientists with the Washington University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Healthcare System.
The additional risk of reinfection was seen in both unvaccinated and vaccinated people and was not only present in the acute phase of illness but persisted in the months after the initial infection had resolved.
Most risks “were still evident at six months after reinfection,” said the report, which surveyed the medical records of veterans, including nearly 39,000 people who had two or more coronavirus infections, 257,000 who had one infection and more than 5 million without a record of infection.
“Assessment of the cumulative risks of repeated infection showed that the risk and burden increased in a graded fashion according to the number of infections,” the report said. “The constellation of findings show that reinfection adds nontrivial risks of all-cause mortality, hospitalization and adverse health outcomes in the acute and post-acute phase of the reinfection.”