With BA.2 omicron subvariants now representing nearly all COVID cases in the U.S., what symptoms should you be watching for?
Cases of “stealth omicron” continued to increase in the United States over the last week, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that iterations of the subvariant are now responsible for more than 90% of cases in the country.
According to the latest data from the CDC, the estimated number of cases linked to the BA.2 subvariant actually decreased slightly to 74.4%, but cases of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant went up to 19% in the United States, meaning that more than 93% of COVID cases in the United States are believed to be occurring as a result of the BA.2 subvariants.
Cases of the BA.1.1 variant, the original omicron variant that spread like wildfire over the winter in the United States, are now down to 6.1%, according to CDC estimates.
The rise of the omicron subvariants is coinciding with a rise in metrics for Illinois and Chicago.
The state of Illinois is now averaging 2,292 cases of COVID per day, an increase of 31% in the last seven days. The week prior to that saw an increase of 34%, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.
Hospitalizations have also ticked upward in recent days, rising by 9% to 566 admissions in the last seven days. Of those patients, 73 are in intensive care units, according to officials.
The current number of patients hospitalized with COVID are taking up 3% of the state’s hospital bed capacity, IDPH officials say.
“We are starting to see a steady increase in cases,” Dr. Amaal Tokars, acting director for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said during a COVID briefing last week. “Hospitalization in most places continues to be stable. We are seeing some just some bubbling up here and there and that’s important to keep an eye on, but overall stable. Death continues to be stable. Again, here in Illinois, we are seeing these rising cases and a context of much lower cases than we had seen in the winter. But still notable and important to point out.”
The same could be said for Chicago, which has also seen steady increases in its cases, but declines in hospitalizations and tests.
“I do expect, you know, probably still for the next few weeks while we continue to see BA.2 outcompete the original omicron, I do think we’ll continue to see some increase in numbers here but nothing at this point is making me concerned for a huge surge,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
So with spread the subvariants continuing to climb, what should you be watching for?
Northwestern’s Dr. Michael Angarone, an associate professor of medicine in infectious diseases, said the symptoms for BA.2 are similar to those seen in many COVID infections.
“So this is the same virus, so SARS Coronavirus 2, so we’re seeing the same symptoms,” he said.
Dr. Gregory Huhn, an infectious disease physician and the COVID-19 vaccine coordinator for Cook County Health, noted that while omicron led to more upper respiratory symptoms, it remains too early to tell if BA.2 will continue that trend.
“I don’t know if we, right now, know the particular features that are distinct for BA.2 versus BA.1. I mean, for BA.1, we knew that it was mostly an upper respiratory-type infection rather than the lower respiratory infections that can lead toward pneumonia and further and greater complications,” he said.
Still, NBC News reported symptoms associated with BA.2 seem to largely mirror a small number of symptoms commonly reported in omicron infections. Those include:
- Runny Nose
Anecdotal reports have suggested that dizziness could be a possible symptom, but they are so far unfounded.
“We will have to wait and see what exactly that means,” said Dr. Rachael Lee, an associate professor of infectious disease and a health care epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Infections in general can cause dizziness if people become dehydrated, she said.
“When we are sick and our body is taking care of the infection, we can get things like fever,” Lee said. “If you have fever, in particular, and if you’re sweating a lot, you’re losing a lot of fluid.”
For some people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple weeks. For others, it may cause no symptoms at all. For some, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Most vaccinated people either have no symptoms or exhibit very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death for those individuals.
Still, omicron presented a shift in common symptoms for many.
Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News in January that a cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be prominent symptoms with the omicron variant.
But unlike the delta variant, many patients were not losing their taste or smell. She noted that these symptoms may only reflect certain populations.
The symptoms COVID infections, according to the CDC, include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting