New COVID-19 subvariants are leading charge in California now. What are BQ.1 and BQ.1.1?

New variants continue to crop up as we enter the third December since the arrival of COVID-19.|

New variants continue to crop up as we enter the third December since the arrival of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, the omicron subvariant BA.2, or “stealth omicron,” was at the helm of coronavirus cases. In the summer, BA.5, deemed one of the worst subvariants, steered infections. Now, two new subvariants are dominating cases in California and across the country — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

The two came from BA.5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like “grandchildren” of the subvariant.

The coronavirus is constantly changing, often resulting in these subvariants.

“Every time that there’s transmission of the virus, that results in viral replication,” Dr. Dean Blumberg, professor and chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis Health told the Bee in January. “It’s an opportunity for new mutations to occur.”

About 12 variants from the omicron lineage make up reported cases in the United States, according to the CDC’s Variant Surveillance.

Which variants are in California?

The California Department of Public Health estimates that variants with the highest proportions in the state are BQ.1 at 33.6%, BQ.1.1 at 31.6% and BA.5 20.2%, as of Dec. 7.

In November, BA.5 was the dominant omicron variant, making up 41% of cases. BQ.1 frollowed with 19.3% and BQ.1.1 at 16.3%.

Are the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants severe?

BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 make up a “small proportion of overall variants,” according to the CDC, but data indicates that they are spreading quickly.

The new subvariants are known to be resistant to antibody treatments, Blumberg told The Bee in an interview in December. These treatments help pre-expose and prevent COVID in people with weakened immune systems. He added that vaccines will continue to provide protection from serious illness and Paxlovid, an antiviral, is still an effective treatment for the coronavirus.

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