What is BQ1.1.? An emerging and worrisome COVID-19 variant to keep an eye on

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While the contagion rates of new subvariants are a cause for concern, an even more worrying aspect is BQ.1.1's resistance to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. (Picture from a picture agency)
As Canadians are urged to get their COVID-19 and influenza vaccines, many are wondering when the pandemic will end.
As the colder weather sets in, COVID-19 cases are increasing in hospitals across the country. However, as COVID-19 continues to fragment, a new variant is emerging that deserves recognition: the BQ.1.1 variant.
A detailed look at the variant COVID-19 BQ.1.1
At different times during the pandemic, different COVID-19 variants have gained the upper hand. In early to mid-summer, the contagious BA.5 COVID-19 subvariant spread across Canada and other parts of the world. Now, just a few months after BA.5 subsided, epidemiologists in the UK are warning of subvariant BQ1.1 as the next version to watch.
How is BQ.1.1 different from previous variants?
In the US, BQ.1.1 infections are doubling every week. So far, this propagation rate is twice as fast as other leading subvariants. For example, the new BQ.1.1 spreads twice as fast as BA.2.75.2.
BQ.1.1 is a subvariant of the Omicron variant BA.5. The recently updated booster shots should help protect against the subvariant.
BQ.1.1 is highly contagious
Some COVID-19 variants are more contagious than others. Currently, the most contagious COVID-19 variant is the strain called BA.5.
BQ.1.1 is spreading across North America along with other contagious Omicron variants. Currently, subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 are responsible for over 11 percent of new infections in the US, while B.A.5 accounts for 70 percent.
BQ.1.1 is resistant to certain antibody therapies
While the contagion rates of new subvariants are a cause for concern, an even more worrying aspect is BQ.1.1's resistance to our natural antibodies and certain antibody therapies. Experts noted earlier this year that certain BA.5 subvariants could evade the antibodies that people have built up through previous infections and vaccinations.
Reports indicate that BQ.1.1 may be the first subvariant fully resistant to antibody therapies such as evusheld and bebtelovimab.
How is our vaccine efficacy with BQ.1.1?
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a COVID-19 booster followed by a flu vaccine at a pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable
Vaccine efficacy refers to how effectively vaccines protect the vaccinated population. It is still too early to definitively determine the efficacy of the vaccine against BQ.1.1. However, it is gaining a reputation for being one of the most immune-preventable COVID-19 variants.
Without adequate antibody and vaccine solutions, the fight against the ever-mutating subvariants of COVID-19 would turn bleak. Fortunately, the latest "bivalent" messenger RNA boosters are still proving effective against the virus.
What are the symptoms of BQ.1.1?
Currently, the symptoms to look out for are the same symptoms associated with other Omicron-related subvariants. Omicron subvariants may have a shorter incubation period and more rapid onset of symptoms than other COVID-19 variants. The worst symptom is feeling your throat burn.
The most common symptoms associated with BQ.1.1 and other Omicron subvariants are:
traffic jam
Runny nose
What to do if you have BQ.1.1
If you think you may have contracted the new B.Q.1.1 subvariant or any other variant of COVID-19, do a rapid test and isolate for five days. As we move into the colder months, seasonal allergies, flu and colds also become more common. Many of these share symptoms with subvariant BQ.1.1, and keeping a COVID-19 home test kit can help you distinguish between COVID-19 and other seasonal diseases.

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