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New Omicron subvariant not 'a cause for concern,' doctor says

BA.2 is looking like it is a little more contagious than Omicron BA.1, which is extremely contagious.

NEW ORLEANS — There is a new version of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus. It's spreading in some countries in Europe and Asia right now.

So does it pose a threat in the New Orleans area?

The Omicron variant now has a sub-variant called BA.2. Omicron, called BA.1, has 50 mutations or changes from the original virus called Wuhan 1. Now BA.2 has further changed. 

So, why do viruses change?

“Every person that gets infected makes literally trillions of copies of the virus, and each time the virus replicates just one time, the odds are it makes one mistake,” explained Dr. Bob Garry, a Microbiologist and Immunologist at Tulane.

Those mistakes, or genetic changes, can make a virus stronger or weaker. Dr. Garry says these new variants are more likely to happen in people who are not boosted. Here's why:

While boosted people could catch Omicron, they are less likely to get sick, be hospitalized and die. And you're less likely to spread the virus because your body clears it sooner and makes fewer copies of the virus. Dr. Garry says the booster will also help protect you if you get BA.2.

“The more people we can get vaccinated, the less this virus is going to spread, and the less likely we're going to come up with these new multi-mutated variants that might give us trouble in the future," he said.

If you have natural immunity because you've recovered from the virus, he says that is not as broad and effective as the boosters are in protecting you.

“Natural immunity, you can't count on that to protect you against the current variants or any variant that shows up in the future,” he said.

So is BA.2 more dangerous or deadly as it is spreading in other countries?

“It's not really cause for concern. It doesn't look like BA.2 is any more pathogenic than BA.1," Dr. Garry said.

But BA.2 is looking like it is a little more contagious than Omicron BA.1, which is extremely contagious.

“There aren't that many cases of this BA.2 variant that have been found in the United States yet. I'm sure it will come here. We'll probably get it in New Orleans, but so far I haven't heard any word that we have that variant yet,” Dr. Garry said.

So, right now, Dr. Garry says it's a subvariant of interest and we need to keep an eye on it because it may become the predominate strain.

You may remember PCT tests did not work as well on Omicron, but and Dr. Garry says tests should work on this new subvariant.