Omicron BF.7 in India; experts on symptoms of new Covid variant, possibility of fresh wave in Diwali

Published on Oct 16, 2022 12:54 PM IST

With negligible Covid-19 cases, people in India are enthusiastically gearing up to celebrate Diwali in less than 10 days. However, a new Covid variant spreading fast in different parts of the world, has now reached India. Should we fear a fresh wave?

Here's all you want to know about the new variants BA.5.1.7 and BF.7 which are also being referred to as Omicron spawn(Pixabay)
Here's all you want to know about the new variants BA.5.1.7 and BF.7 which are also being referred to as Omicron spawn(Pixabay)
By, Delhi

Omicron's new sub-variants BA.5.1.7 and BF.7, said to be highly infectious and having greater transmissibility after emerging from a region of Mongolia in China are now making their way to other parts of the world and driving a fresh wave of Covid infections. According to recent reports, the first case of BF.7 has been found in India as detected by Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre. With the emergence of these new sub-variants that are able to surpass immunity from previous infections and vaccines, it is important to take precautions ahead of the upcoming festivities of Diwali, Dhanteras, Govardhan Puja and Bhai Dooj. With lockdowns and restrictions easing up, people in India are enthusiastically looking forward to celebrating one of the biggest festivals in the country - Diwali - after nearly two years of keeping it all low key. Experts, however, warn that one must not let go of the masks yet and take responsibility for isolating oneself at the first sight of symptoms could protect the vulnerable group like children, elderly, cancer survivors, cancer patients, transplant patients among others. Here's all you want to know about the new variants BA.5.1.7 and BF.7 which are also being referred to as Omicron spawn. (Also read: Omicron’s staying power is key to mild winter as cases rise)

Omicron spawn: All about the new Covid variants BA.5.1.7 and BF.7

Omicron
Omicron

"We have witnessed a gradual decline in the number of positive cases of Covid-19 worldwide in the past few months. But the Covid-19 virus is continuously evolving into newer and more evasive variants.

On October 11, a new variant called 'Omicron spawn', technically BA.5.1.7 and BF 7 were found in the inner autonomous region of Mongolia in China. It has now spread to many districts of China. It is also reported that the prevalence of this variant has doubled in the United States (from 0.8 to 1.7%) in the past two weeks. There are almost 15-25% of these variant cases in European countries like UK, Germany and France," Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Consultant Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist, Head, Ameri Health, Asian Hospital, Faridabad told HT Digital.

It is known that any mutation of a virus carries an advantage over the wild type. This variant of Omicron BF7 is more immunologically evasive and can counter the antibodies present in people due to previous infections or vaccinations," says Dr Arora.

Reason why BA.5.1.7 and BF.7 can spread faster than other variants

Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, Coronavirologist and Covid Awareness Specialist, Rotary Club of Madras NextGen in a telephonic conversation with us said there is an increase in transmissibility with the new variants as they are able to evade the immunity based on previous infections even in fully vaccinated individuals and also they seem to have this other ability to bind better, meaning a few viral particles are sufficient to cause infection, so with earlier variants you needed lot more exposure to be infected, with this one you don't.

Symptoms of BA.5.1.7 and BF.76

Experts say that the symptoms of these variants would be more or less same but more will emerge with time.

"The symptoms of this variant are typically the same as before, with body pain as predominant one. People carrying the variant can spread the virus, being asymptomatic themselves," says Dr Arora.

"We don't really know (about the symptoms) because not everybody is sequencing the data (right now), so we can't correlate the disease severity with the variant in large quantities as just. So, we have to wait and see. As for the certainty of data saying this is completely going to transmit, going to cause high levels of infection, we don't know yet. Like I said there is not a lot of data directly pinpointing infection severity with sequence of the variant because most people are not tested with genomic sequencing," says Dr Venkatagopalan.

Will Diwali trigger a fresh wave of Covid infections?

Experts say there is a possibility of a fresh wave driven by the new variants as a lot of people will gather in huge numbers during Diwali.

"There are chances of another wave of Covid-19 due to this variant in India as well. As the festive season is on (in) full swing, people are gathering in large numbers and there are no travel restrictions, the variant can spread to the Indian population in next 3-4 weeks. Since the flu season and incoming winters are also approaching, the cases with congestion, sore throat and runny nose are expected to rise," says Dr Arora.

"Yes, there has been news about this highly infectious omicron variant but we know very little about this variant. We will have to wait and look how it behaves in terms of severity so best keep a close watch take precautions and go on our routine," says Dr Vasant Nagvekar, Co-director of Infectious Disease at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.

"It is quite likely at this point as we are all sort of gone back to normal. We are not taking excessive precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. Lockdowns will not be a solution as it only postpones the inevitable that is transmission of the disease. If we behave sensibly, and protect ourselves by masking up and isolating in case there are symptoms, and being fully vaccinated, we can reduce impact of this variant. But people are looking at going back to life of complete normalcy. Most people have accepted this as being common cold, and this is something that we are going to get. A lot of people are isolating at the first sign of symptoms and not really testing. Some people just move on with life as they know how it is to miss out on so many things for so long," says Dr Venkatagopalan.

Precautions ahead of Diwali

Dr Arora says with Diwali around the corner, people should not panic about this Covid variant, but should be careful of the symptoms and precautions they can take.

- Try to meet as minimum people as possible, do not keep gatherings indoors.

-Maintain cough etiquette and hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water thoroughly.

-The mask which is now nowhere to be seen should be back on their face covering mouth and nose. It prevents them from pollutants as well.

Dr Venkatagopalan says at no point we shouldn't be not wary of coronavirus as it's around us.

"The disciple can minimise the spread. We can't stop the spread of it. If we are having symptoms, it is best to get tested, isolate ourselves from people that are highly vulnerable. Cancer patients, transplant patients, pregnant women, children, senior citizens who have underlying conditions (are vulnerable group), this would be the only way we can go forward from now forth," says the expert.

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