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‘Stealth’ Omicron: What You Need To Know About The BA.2 Virus


The World Health Organization (WHO) has been monitoring SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) since January 2020, during which time the variant Omicron has been identified, which is technically known as BA.1 or B.1.1.529. 

The WHO is now monitoring a sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA.2, which has been described as “stealth Omicron,” because it has genetic mutations that potentially make it harder to distinguish from the Delta variant when using PCR tests (compared to the original version of Omicron). 

Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) mutates over time, meaning its transmissibility and associated disease severity can change. According to the WHO, the sub-variant differs from the original Omicron variant in some of the mutations, such as it’s the “spike protein.”

Although Covid-19 tests are still able to detect if you’re infected with the Omicron variant, they cannot currently distinguish between Omicron (BA.1) and stealth Omicron (BA.2) without extensive genetic sequencing. As it is harder to detect, it’s likely that the number of those infected with the sub-variant is higher than initially estimated. 

What are the symptoms of stealth Omicron?

According to Karen Edwards, PhD, professor and chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, (via Good Housekeeping) there is little evidence to suggest that BA.2/stealth Omicron has any different symptoms than the BA.1/Omicron variant: 

“I have not seen anything to indicate that the symptoms with BA.2 are different from BA.1.”

The ZOE COVID Study app identifies the following symptoms of the Omicron variant: 

  1. runny nose
  2. headache
  3. fatigue (mild or severe)
  4. sneezing
  5. sore throat

Is stealth Omicron more transmissible than Omicron?

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said during a Live Q&A on 8 February, “BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1 so we expect to see BA.2 increasing in detection around the world.”

Denmark has experienced one of the earliest surges in cases of BA.2, which accounted for almost half of Covid-19 cases in the country by the end of January 2022. 

According to Frederik Plesner Lyngse, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, the Omicron variant drove the surge in Covid-19 cases in Denmark, saying (via Vox), “One of the reasons why we think omicron took over so fast in Denmark is we actually saw it having strong immune-evasive properties.”

According to a preprint paper (which has yet to be peer-reviewed), Frederik also argues, “When we look at BA.1 compared to BA.2, we really see that BA.2 is intrinsically more transmittable.”

A briefing by the UK Health Security Agency outlines that, “BA.2 [stealth Omicron] has an increased growth rate compared to BA.1 [Omicron] in all regions of England where there are sufficient cases present to make an assessment. 

“Whilst growth rates can be overestimates early in the emergence of a variant, the apparent growth advantage is currently substantial.”

Are the vaccine and boosters still effective against stealth Omicron? 

The UK Health Security Agency explained in their briefing, “A preliminary assessment did not find evidence of a difference in vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease for BA.2 compared to BA.1,” however they also noted that “numbers included in [the] study are relatively small.”

For information and advice related to Covid-19, visit NHS.uk, the World Health Organization’s website, or speak to your GP.

For more from Glamour UK’s Lucy Morgan, follow her on Instagram @lucyalexxandra.





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