How concerned should I be with BA.5, on a scale of 1 to 10? We asked for the ranking of 4 leading experts on COVID

A speedometer like scale with a gauge going back and forth between 3 and 10 while surrounded by newspaper clippings, post-its and red rope

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  • Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant is reinfecting people at a record pace, causing alarm.

  • We asked public health experts how worried you should be about this, on a scale of 1 to 10.

  • Your answers will vary depending on who and where you are, but if you’re up to date on vaccines and know where to get treatment, there’s no need to panic.

There’s a new coronavirus variant traveling this summer in a record-breaking clip.

It’s a variant of Omicron, called BA.5, and it’s causing a stir in large part because it has evolved even further than other coronavirus Omicrons that we already knew about.

Previously, getting infected with Omicron meant that you probably had some protection from reinfection for a few months at least. But now BA.5 is strategically evading our built-in defenses against previous versions of the virus. This all means that reinfections – even in vaccinated and recently infected people – are above. way up.

So yes, BA.5 is easier to capture than other variants, and it can to feel like it’s lurking everywhere right now, infecting anyone, whether or not you’ve had a vaccine, a booster shot, and/or a recent COVID outbreak.

“If you’ve been infected with BA.1, you really don’t have much protection against BA.4/5,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, on Tuesday.

We asked four public health experts to help us figure out how worried we should be about this extra-stealthy new Omicron subvariant.

Telling us how much to worry about new infectious disease threats is usually what these people do for a living. But the BA.5 rating gave them some respite.

“I can’t answer that,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Celine Gounder, general editor of Public Health at Kaiser Health News. “Because it depends on your vaccination status, your age, your health, your occupation, your living situation, etc, etc.”

Others gave concrete numbers, but there was variation in their answers based on where you live or who you are.

If you are up to date on vaccines, an expert said your concern scale should be recorded at ‘3 out of 10’

Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan, was willing to give a strong and fast number: “I would say 3 out of 10,” she said, expressing mild concern about the new variant.

“BA.5 is everywhere and if you haven’t acquired it yet, chances are pretty good. [good] you will,” she reasoned. “But if you’re up to date on your vaccinations, the illness should be mild and without major medical consequences.”

While there is a “high risk of exposure” to this variant, she said there is also “a lot of reason to be hopeful.” Early treatment with Paxlovid is now free for all Americans who may need it.

“With home testing and quick connection to treatment (for those at risk of complicated infection), COVID is manageable,” Malani said.

Elderly people without reinforcement should be more concerned

In the UK, which is at least a few weeks ahead of the US in terms of the spread of variants, national health security experts assessed that the protection offered by current BA.5 vaccines “probably remains comparable to that seen previously”, which means that vaccinated and boosted people, while certainly at risk of getting sick with BA.5, are unlikely to end up in hospital or die.

However, for those who are not up to date on vaccines and who do not have a COVID action plan ready, the results can be poor. The European Union earlier this week issued new recommendations for a second booster for all adults aged 60 and over, in line with what the US already recommends.

“Currently, we are seeing increasing COVID-19 case reporting rates and an increasing trend in hospital and ICU admissions and occupancy in several countries, primarily driven by Omicron’s BA.5 underline,” Dr. Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said.

“There are still many individuals at risk of serious COVID-19 infection that we need to protect as soon as possible.”

Regional differences in vaccine rates and heat waves can complicate the calculation

Miami, Florida

Miami, Florida

Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images

Public health expert Katelyn Jetelina, who runs the popular blog ‘Your Local Epidemiologist’, was unwilling to provide a single number for the entire US. She said the risk is very variable now, based on where you live.

“I’m pretty worried about the South,” she said, rating it a 7 out of 10 due to low booster fire rates, low use of Paxlovid, low testing, and “everyone getting in because of the heat.”

The South also had a relatively low number of infections in the recent BA.2.12.1 wave, unlike the Northeast, where Jetelina said people should be at a concern level of 4 out of 10.

Bottom line: If you’re stimulated, wearing masks when appropriate, and have a test and treatment plan of action for getting sick, most experts agree that this wave should be good.

But like all risk calculations, “the number is different based on who is being applied,” as Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“If it is a patient who has just had a lung transplant, the number would be 10. For a healthy 18-year-old, it would be 0”, he ventured.

“Risk is not a one size fits all.”

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