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You may have heard of a new COVID variant circulating. While it’s natural for the reports to induce anxiety or inspire you to tune out or even make you want to throw up your hands in defeat, there is another way. By staying informed and acting on recommendations, we limit the impact of the virus in our lives and our communities. Here’s everything you need to know in one easy list.

The Bad News

· Mutations are expected. The more a virus replicates the more it changes. Some changes improve the virus’s ability to spread. Viruses with improved spreading capability eventually become the dominant strain. This isn’t the first variant, and it won’t be the last.

· The more mutations a virus has the less likely our immune system is to recognize it. The latest omicron subvariant, called BA.5, has a lot of mutations. It partially sidesteps immunity, and so causes a lot of reinfections, even in people who have had COVID before or who are vaccinated. It is now the most dominant strain in the United States.

· This is somewhat concerning, because, according to a recent study, reinfection could relate to a greater likelihood for long COVID.

The Good News

· While BA.5 does appear to be more infectious than previous variants, it does not appear to cause more serious illness. This may be because much of the population is vaccinated or has had prior infections. We are not seeing a steep rise in deaths as we did in January 2022, for instance.

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· In addition, we have better treatments now than we had in the past and most are effective against BA.5. Paxlovid is indicated for those at risk, which includes people 50 and older and those under 50 with a medical condition associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19.

· Finally, we know what to do. All of the same advice you have been hearing for months holds true:

o Check your COVID Community Level regularly and follow the recommendations based on transmission in your area.

o Get kids ages 6 months and older vaccinated. Everyone over age 5 is eligible for a booster. Those 50 or older and those 12 and older with underlying medical conditions should get a second booster. COVID vaccines and boosters are available locally at the COVID Resource Center, at some doctor’s offices, and at many pharmacies.

· New boosters, designed to fight more recent variants, are being developed. Vaccine companies are hoping to get them out this fall.

By following recommendations, you can keep your sanity and keep the virus from spreading. The less it spreads the less it mutates and the fewer new variants will emerge.

Dr. Marie George is an infectious disease specialist with SVMC Infectious Disease, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.


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