A worrying variant of COVID-19 to watch out for

A microscopic view of the new bacterium, COVID-19.  (Image from stock)

While the infectivity levels of the new subvariants are a concern, an even more concerning aspect is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. (Image from stock)

As Canadians are urged to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines, many are wondering when the pandemic will end.

With the arrival of colder weather, cases of COVID-19 are increasing in hospitals across the country. However, as COVID-19 continues to spread, there is a new variant on the horizon that deserves recognition: the BQ.1.1 variant.

Detailed view of the COVID-19 variant BQ.1.1

Different variants of COVID-19 reigned at different points in the pandemic. In early to mid-summer, the infectious BA.5 subvariant of COVID-19 swept across Canada and other parts of the world. Now, just months after BA.5 died out, epidemiologists in the UK are warning of the BQ1.1 sub-variant as the next version to watch.

How does BQ.1.1 differ from previous variants?

In the US, the number of BQ.1.1 infections is doubling every week. So far, this propagation speed is double the speed of other leading subvariants. For example, the new BQ.1.1 spreads twice as fast as BA.2.75.2.

BQ.1.1 is an Omicron subvariant of the BA.5 variant. Recently updated boosters should help protect against the subvariant.

BQ.1.1 is highly contagious

Some variants of COVID-19 are more contagious than others. Currently, the most infectious variant of COVID-19 is the strain named BA.5.

BQ.1.1 is spreading across North America along with other infectious Omicron variants. Currently, BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 subvariants are responsible for more than 11 percent of new infections in the US, while BA5 accounts for 70 percent.

BQ.1.1 is resistant to certain antibody therapies

While the infectivity levels of the new subvariants are a concern, an even more concerning aspect is the resistance of BQ.1.1 to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. Experts noted earlier in the year that certain subvariants of BA.5 could escape the antibodies people have developed from previous infections and vaccinations.

Reports indicate that BQ.1.1 may be the first subvariant to be completely resistant to antibody therapies such as Evusheld and Bebtelovimab.

How effective is our vaccine with BQ.1.1?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a booster shot against COVID-19 followed by a flu shot at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on November 9, 2022.  REUTERS/Blair Gable

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a booster shot against COVID-19 followed by a flu shot at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Vaccine efficacy refers to how effective vaccines are at protecting the vaccinated population. It is still too early to make a definitive statement about the effectiveness of the BQ.1.1 vaccine. However, it is gaining a reputation as one of the most immune-evasive variants of COVID-19 to emerge.

Without sufficient antibodies and vaccines, the fight against the constantly mutating sub-variants of COVID-19 would become grim. Fortunately, the latest “bivalent” messenger-RNA boosters are still proving effective against the virus.

What are the symptoms of BQ.1.1?

Currently, the symptoms to look out for are the same symptoms associated with other Omicron-related subvariants. Omicron subvariants may have a shorter incubation period and faster onset of symptoms than other COVID-19 variants. The worst symptom is a burning sensation in your throat.

The most common symptoms associated with BQ.1.1 and other Omicron subvariants include:

  • Constipation

  • Cough

  • Cold

  • Fatigue

What to do when you conclude a contract BQ.1.1

If you think you may have contracted the new subvariant BQ1.1 or any variety of COVID-19, take a rapid test and self-isolate for five days. As we head into the colder months, seasonal allergies, flus, and colds will become more common. Many of these share symptoms with the BQ.1.1 subvariant, and having a COVID-19 home test kit on hand can help you differentiate COVID-19 from other seasonal illnesses.

Leave a Comment