With a current pandemic scenario in which population immunity offers high protection against the predominant omicron variant, the natural course of the virus evolves, giving rise to new variants and subvariants. Among them, one of the candidates to become the predominant one in the coming months, and one of the most worrying at the moment, is BQ.1 (and BQ.1.1), whose presence has already been confirmed in Spain.
This concern is manifested in the latest update of the epidemiological situation of SARS-CoV-2 variants in Spain , published last Monday, October 17, with data relating to week 38 of 2022 ( from September 19 to 25 ). Although no case with these subvariants has been recorded in patients in this report, its rapid expansion in other parts of the world is alerted.
“At the moment, although at a global level, BA.5 and the lineages derived from it without important changes continue to be dominant in Spain and in the world, numerous lineages with mutations have been detected that could be related to a greater escape from the response whose prevalence is growing, among them some with few differences but that have been detected at significant levels, such as BA.4.6 or BF.7, and others, detected in much lower percentages, but with much more differences in their mutation profile with respect to the dominant lineages that, in vitro, demonstrate a greater capacity to evade the immune response, among which the following stand out: BA.2.3.20, BA.2.75.2, CA.1, BR.2, BN.1, BM.1.1 .1, BU.1, BQ.1.1, and XBB”.
At the moment, without patients in Spain
First detected in July in India and Canada, they have been easily introduced to other regions. This is the case of the United Kingdom, where its Public Health Agency (UKHSA) has reported that this new variant, a descendant of the well-known BA.5, has a growth capacity that is 29% greater than its parent . Or in the United States, where the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 11% of the new cases detected in the country during the previous week correspond to the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants.
Meanwhile, in Spain, and despite the fact that the new subvariants have not yet been sighted in any patient in that week 38 of 2022, the truth is that it can be expected that their presence in our country will be confirmed in the next updates.
This suspicion arises after the recent announcement by the Department of Health of the Generalitat , from which they confirm that BQ.1 has been detected in the study of the community’s wastewater, as confirmed by the Secretary of Public Health of the Generalitat , Carmen Cabezas, in statements to the RAC1 chain . “The subvariant (BQ.1) would be more transmissible but not necessarily more serious,” the secretary clarified.
More contagious but not more dangerous
In the absence of new data being published in the coming weeks or months on the characteristics of these new subvariants, everything seems to indicate that they will not be more serious , although they will have a greater transmission capacity.
Also, a greater ability to dodge the immunity acquired to date. “That’s why people are concerned about BQ.1.1, because of its doubling time and the fact that it seems to elude important monoclonal antibodies,” said White House top medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci . , speaking to CBS.
Regarding the protection that the new vaccines adapted to the latest variants can offer, Dr. Eric Topol , professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research (USA) and director of the Scripps Translational Research Institute, considered, in statements to the Fortune portal , that We will not know to what extent the new variants will avoid current vaccines until their presence does not cover 30 or 50% of cases in some region. However, he ventured to predict that “it will not end the effectiveness of the vaccine, but it could make a dent in the protection against hospitalizations and deaths.”
In this sense, Fauci added that, “almost certainly”, the new drugs will provide “some” protection against them (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1), since they were designed to address their close relative, BA.5.
Regarding their symptoms, and from what is known to date, they are similar to the predominant variants . These are fever, cough and sneezing, runny nose, headache, throat and muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite or diarrhea. It remains to be seen whether, like the first variants, they will also cause loss of smell and taste.