What we know about this COVID-19 strain

The omicron subvariant of COVID-19, BA.5, has become the most dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. It is the most easily spread strain to date and is able to evade immunity from COVID infection and vaccination. If you have been exposed to someone with the virus or have COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for a test or your results, stay home and isolate from other.

All of the variants, including omicron BA.5, cause similar COVID-19 symptoms:

  • runny nose
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • fever
  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • fatigue

Even people who have partial immunity from a previous infection or vaccination can still have a breakthrough infection. Breakthrough infections are in people who have been vaccinated or previously had COVID. However, the majority of breakthrough infections are not causing severe illness, as compared to early in the pandemic when no one had immunity.

New research finds that with each repeat COVID infection – even asymptomatic infection – your risk for complications increases. These include:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • diabetes
  • digestive and kidney disorders
  • long-term cognitive impairment, including dementia

Each reinfection also carries with it the risk of long COVID or ongoing COVID symptoms that can last for weeks or months after infection.

Is omicron BA.5 able to spread more easily than other COVID-19 strains?

Yes. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID tracker, BA.5 is the predominant strain of COVID-19. It is more easily spread than previous strains because it evades immunity from past COVID-19 infection and/or vaccination. That means even if you were infected with delta or omicron BA.1, you can still get BA.5. Your previous immunity does not protect you from the latest strain.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from omicron BA.5?

To protect against omicron BA.5, health experts recommend the following:

  • Be sure you are updated on all COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. There is abundant evidence that being vaccinated and getting all COVID-19 boosters helps protect you against severe disease.
  • Wear a well-fitted face covering, such as an N95 or KN95, when you are indoors and not able to socially distance from people outside your household. It’s especially important for people who are at high risk for developing severe disease.

Should I continue to wear a mask? How effective are N95 masks vs. surgical masks vs. cloth masks?

  • Several studies, including one from UC Davis, indicate how effective masks can be in protecting yourself and others. It’s important to remember that you may be asymptomatic and not know you are infected but still able to spread COVID-19. Wearing a mask in these situations helps protect vulnerable people you could unknowingly infect.
  • Mask guidance continues to change, depending on rates of spread within communities, as well as the levels of vaccination and immunity people have from both vaccination and infection. Even if masking is not required, consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces if you or people you live with are at high risk for severe disease.
  • Consider upgrading your face masks to N95s or KN95s if you want more protection. Cloth masks reduce the risk of infection by about 50%. This is compared to surgical masks that reduce the rate of infection by about 60-70%, and greater than 80% for N95s.