Fact checked on April 20 by Rich Scherr, a journalist and fact-checker with more than three decades of experience.
An Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., making up 74% of new infections as of April 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Though research is ongoing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1, but it hasn't been found to be any more severe. But as case counts continue to rise in the U.S. and throughout the world, symptoms of BA.2—and how they compare to those of other variants—are at the forefront of conversations.
Here, health care providers and public health experts weigh in on the symptoms they're seeing the most during the uptick in BA.2 cases, and what to do if you start feeling ill.
Common Symptoms of BA.2
The most prevalent symptoms of BA.2 "often mimic symptoms of the common cold" or other seasonal viruses Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, director and founding dean at the University of California, Irvine, public health program, told Health. These signs, Boden-Albala said, include fever, chills, fatigue, cough, body aches, shortness of breath, and sore throat.
Additionally, some patients are seeing upper respiratory symptoms, nasal congestion, and gastrointestinal symptoms, including stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, Eric Cioe-Peña, MD, emergency department physician and director of global health at Staten Island University Hospital, told Health.
Some COVID-19 symptoms, like loss of taste or smell, are seen less frequently in BA.2 infections compared to previous variants, including Delta, Boden-Albala added.
But on the whole, BA.2 symptoms have been generally similar to those of previous variants. "There has not been a significant change in symptoms. Usually, nasal congestion or a sore throat [are common]," Cioe-Peña said. "But symptoms can be milder, especially in vaccinated or previously infected individuals."
BA.2 symptoms have been particularly similar to those of the Omicron subvariant called BA.1, which caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in late 2021 and early 2022, Michael Blaivas, MD, chief medical officer at Anavasi Diagnostics, told Health. The Delta variant, which circulated in the U.S. during the summer and fall of 2021, caused more severe symptoms than those being seen now, Dr. Blaivas said.
"The original strain caused tremendous suffering with many deaths and severe illness," Dr. Blavias said, noting that fewer people were immunized at the time when Delta was prominent in the U.S. "Omicron and its subvariants have not had such severe symptoms as we saw with the initial strain and with Delta," he added.
Boden-Albala echoed this, explaining that while the Delta and Omicron variants share many of the same symptoms, they differ in terms of severity. Specifically, "BA.2 is different from Delta in that it has a much lower potential for causing severe disease and hospitalization, especially if you're vaccinated."
What to Do If You Start Experiencing BA.2 Symptoms
If you notice any symptoms associated with COVID-19, it's important that you get tested for active infection, especially when traveling. It's particularly important to test before visiting vulnerable people, Dr. Cioe-Peña said, despite being vaccinated and boosted.
Even if you've had all vaccination doses recommended to you by the CDC, you could still have what's known as a breakthrough infection, and testing is how you can make sure you don't spread the virus to anyone else.
Testing can also help you determine whether you're suffering from COVID-19 or something else, Dr. Blaivas explained: "It's important to know that not all symptoms apply to all people who are infected with COVID. Symptoms alone cannot differentiate between COVID, allergies, [a] cold virus, flu, and other processes because there is so much overlap," he said. "Thus, rapid and reliable COVID testing that is easily accessible is critical."
PCR tests are still considered the most accurate way to test for COVID-19, regardless of variant type, Boden-Albala said. But people can use at-home tests as an alternative to detect active infection, since they are easy to use and have become more widely available across the country. However, it's imperative that the user correctly administer the at-home test for the most accurate result, she added.
"A negative at-home rapid test result means the test didn't detect the virus, but it doesn't entirely rule out infection," Boden-Albala said. "The user would need to repeat the test 24 to 48 hours later to double-check."
People who are experiencing symptoms should test frequently, Dr. Cioe-Peña said, especially if they are using rapid antigen tests. Multiple negative rapid antigen tests increase the chances that you are not infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, he said.
Other Preventative Measures to Take
Beyond COVID-19 testing, health experts recommend continuing to check trusted sources like the CDC, WHO, and local and state health departments for evidence-based information about preventing the spread of the disease.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there, so it's critical that we practice what I call 'public health literacy' by learning where to go for accurate information and how to use it to make informed decisions about our health," Boden-Albala said.
Experts also recommend evaluating your personal risk of contracting COVID-19 when you leave your home, and planning accordingly. For example, if community transmission is high in your county, or if you are part of a high-risk group, you should consider wearing a mask in public, especially in crowded and indoor spaces.
"Many of the trusted sources can tell you if COVID cases are high in the community you live and work in, and you can use that data to decide whether or not to put on a mask," Boden-Albala explained.
Getting vaccinated, if you are eligible, is another key preventative measure to reduce your risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19. Vaccines are highly effective against severe diseases, according to the CDC.
"As much as we want it to be, the pandemic isn't over," Boden-Albala said. "Evaluating our risk is simply part of our 'new normal'—and we need to accept that."
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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