Houston ER Physician Answers Your Questions About BA.4 and BA.5 Covid-19 Subvariants
Board-certified emergency medicine physician, Dr. Christopher Langan answers your questions about BA.4 and BA.5 Covid-19 Subvariants. Learn what they are, their symptoms, and how to protect your family.
Board-certified emergency medicine physician, Dr. Christopher Langan.
BA.4 and BA.5 Covid-19 subvariants are spreading rapidly throughout the country and we asked our board-certified emergency room physician, Dr. Christopher Langan, MD, the chief operating officer of SignatureCare Emergency Center in Houston, TX, to help us understand what these subvariants are and what we need to do to protect ourselves and families going forward.
His answers are below –
Question: What are BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of COVID-19? They seem to be spreading rapidly now in our area. What should we know about these subvariants?
Langan: The BA.4 and BA.5 are the newest subvariants of the Omicron virus. The spike protein, which is the outer protein on the virus that helps it enter the cell, has changed so it has become more effective at attaching to and entering the human upper respiratory tract. This makes it more contagious, but the virus has not been causing more severe diseases.
Question: What are some symptoms of the COVID-19 BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants we should be aware of?
Langan: The main symptoms of BA.4 and BA.5 Covid-19 subvariants are-
Question: BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of COVID-19 are said to be highly transmissible. What does that mean and how does that make them different from earlier variants? Do they lead to more severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths?
Langan: BA.4 and BA.5 are more transmissible because the outer protein that coats the virus, called the spike protein, has changed so it is even better at sticking to the cells in your nose and throat, making it more contagious. More people are getting sick with the virus, but on average the course of illness is much less severe than the initial COVID-19 strains. The virus spends more time in your nose and throat and upper respiratory tract replicating, but is not very good at replicating in the deep lung like the original form of COVID-19.
Question: There is the notion that if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past and been vaccinated that you have nothing to worry about BA.4 and BA.5. Is that true?
Langan: Unfortunately, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are different enough that the immune system, whether you are vaccinated or had prior COVID, may not work as well against these variants. However, people who have been vaccinated against COVID or have had prior disease will have a better immune response than those who have not had COVID or the vaccination.
Question: What is herd immunity and will it work with the current variants of COVD-19 circulating throughout Texas?
Langan: Herd immunity is when enough of the population has antibodies to the virus so it will not continue to spread. WE need about 90% of the population to be immune before this would happen. Because the virus is changing, currently herd immunity is not a likely way for us to eradicate COVID in the near future.
Question: What would you recommend to somebody over 50 who has been vaccinated and received their first but not the second booster? Should they get the second booster even though it may not fully protect them against BA.4 and BA.5?
Langan: Getting boosted with the vaccine will decrease your chances of getting a severe COVID infection, even though the virus is changing. The vaccine will still work to an extent and will help protect you against COVID, so those at risk should certainly get their booster shots.
Question: If you were infected with the original Omicron, are you protected from serious illness, hospitalization, or death if you get the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants?
Langan: Prior infection, like vaccination, should help prevent severe infection as long as your immune response is still intact. However, immunity may be different from person to person. It is always best to be vaccinated and boosted, because it is a reliable way to keep up your immunity.
Question: What about those parents reluctant to vaccinate their children against COVID-19? Should they still allow their children to get vaccinated even though it may not protect against BA.4 and BA.5?
Langan:The COVID vaccine is safe for children and will help prevent severe diseases from COVID. If parents are reluctant to get children vaccinated they should discuss the pros and cons with their pediatrician and make the best-informed choice for their family. Children are less likely to get severe diseases than adults, but having everyone vaccinated in the household may be a great way to prevent other at-risk family members from getting sick.
Question: Some experts are predicting a surge in COVID-19 infections in the Fall. Looking ahead, what do you see?
Langan: Since the COVID virus has continually mutated we will likely see more cases in the year to come. However, it is likely that it will continue to follow the more contagious but less severe pattern of disease.
Question: Talking about mask-wearing, would you advise Texans to still wear masks as they go about their daily activities?
Langan: Masking is a great way to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID. Remember, the main benefit of masking is to protect others if you currently have the virus, whether you have signs of illness or may be a silent carrier. Remember to be especially courteous around those who may be at risk and mask for their safety.
Dr. Christopher Langan, MD is a Emergency Medicine Specialist in Houston, TX. He has over 20 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in 2002. Dr. Langan is currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of SignatureCare Emergency Center in Houston, TX.