The UK was on high alert when the Omicron strain of coronavirus first entered its shores. The variant outstripped its predecessors in terms of transmissibility, raising fears that it would breach the immune defences of the fully vaccinated. Fortunately, the booster shots provided added protection, keeping hospitalisations and deaths low.
Now a sub-variant Omicron, nicknamed the “Stealth Omicron”, has been identified in England.
It has acquired the moniker “Stealth” because it is more difficult to differentiate from Delta than the original Omicron variant, BA.1.
Commenting on the new variant, The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Doctor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor for UKHSA, said: “Ongoing variant analysis is an important part of our pandemic response. Thanks to the expertise of scientists at UKHSA and partner organisations, we’re able to respond quickly to new variations of the virus.
“We now know that BA.2 has an increased growth rate which can be seen in all regions in England. We have also learnt that BA.2 has a slightly higher secondary attack rate than BA.1 in households.”
Doctor Hopkins added: “Although hospitalisations and deaths remain low, cases are still high in some areas and some age groups so it’s important that we continue to act cautiously as restrictions are lifted. Consider wearing a face covering when in crowded places. Take a vaccine to protect yourself against COVID-19. If you have any symptoms, take a test.”
What are the warning signs?
It is currently unclear whether Stealth Omicron produces distinct symptoms but the ZOE COVID Study app has kept a tally of the top 20 symptoms of Covid currently reported in the UK.
The ZOE COVID Study app logs data from over four million contributors, providing real-time updates on the pandemic.
According to the ZOE data, the most common symptom currently recorded is runny nose, accounting for 75 percent of all symptomatic cases.
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This is followed by headache (68 percent), sore throat (66 percent) and fatigue (65 percent).
Other signs recorded include:
- Persistent cough
- Hoarse voice
- Chills or shivers
- Unusual joint pains
- Brain fog
- Eye soreness
- Altered smell
- Unusual muscle pains
- Lower back pain
- Swollen glands
- Skipped meals
- Chest pain.
Where is the Stealth Variant dominant?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the variant is now dominant in 10 countries worldwide, including China, India and Denmark.
The WHO said: “Overall, there is no difference in severity when looking at countries where BA.2 is dominant and those where BA.1 is dominant.”
Commenting on the emergence of the new strain, Doctor Meera Chand, COVID-19 Incident Director at UKHSA, said: “It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on. Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.
So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.
Case rates remain high throughout the UK and we must remain vigilant and take up vaccinations. We should all continue to test regularly with LFDs and take a PCR test if symptoms develop.”