BQ.1 COVID-19 variant becoming increasingly prevalent in US infections: CDC

A new subvariant of the omicron variant of the coronavirus is becoming increasingly widespread in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC data show that variants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 each accounted for 5.7 percent of the total number of cases in the country in the past week. The BA.5 subvariant, which has dominated cases in the United States for months, accounted for 67.9 percent, down from its peak in late August, when it accounted for nearly 90 percent of all cases in the country.

The BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants have increasingly spread in recent weeks, trailing only the BA.5 and BA.4.6 sub-variants in most cases.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CBS News in an interview that people need to “keep an eye out” for new strains despite the fact that cases and hospitalizations are down.

“When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and it has a pretty troublesome doubling time,” he said.

Fauci said he is concerned that subsequent variants may be more effective at avoiding drugs that scientists have developed to help patients manage the virus.

“That’s why people are concerned about BQ.1.1, for the dual reason of its doubling time and the fact that it seems to escape important monoclonal antibodies,” he said.

Cases and hospitalizations have been falling since July, and deaths have been falling since August. But health officials have warned the public to expect an increase in cases as winter approaches.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved an updated booster dose of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines to treat the omicron subvariants. The booster is a bivalent vaccine, meaning it contains the mRNA vaccine for the original strain of coronavirus and the vaccine for another strain.

This booster targets the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

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