The COVID variant Omicron has quickly evolved into many subvariants since its appearance in late 2021. One subvariant, BF.7 has been recently identified as the major variant spreading to Beijing and contributing to a larger surge in COVID-related infections in China.
What is the new variant and why should we be concerned? While reports from China are concerned about the variant’s characteristics, it does not appear to be increasing in other parts of the world. Here are the facts.
BF.7 is an abbreviation for BA.22.214.171.124 and it’s a sub-lineage from the omicron version BA.5.
According to Chinese reports, BF.7 is the most infective subvariant of all the omicron variants in China. It transmits faster than any other variant, has a shorter incubation time, and can infect people who have been vaccinated or have had COVID.
News coverage should be based on facts and not just tweets
This is because BF.7 has an R0, or basic reproducibility number, of between 10 and 18.6. This means that an infected person can transmit the virus to an average of 10-18% of other people. Research shows that omicron has an average of 5.08.
It is believed that the high transmission rate of BF.7 combined with the danger of hidden spread by the many asymptomatic carriers are making it difficult to control the epidemic in China.
symptoms associated with infection with BF.7 look similar to other omicron Subvariants, primarily upper-respiratory symptoms. Patients can experience symptoms such as a fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue. Some people may also experience symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
People with weaker immune systems may be more susceptible to BF.7-related illness.
Mutations in BF.7
As omicron evolved, we have seen new subvariants emerge that are better able to escape from vaccination or previous infection. BF.7 is no exception.
BF.7 has a particular mutation, R346T in the spike protein SARS-CoV-2. This protein is what allows the virus to attach to our cells and infect them. This mutation is also found in BF.7’s parent variant BA.5. It has been shown to increase the virus’ ability to escape any anti-viral antibodies that have been generated or previously infected.
A new study looked at the neutralization of BF.7 by sera (a component in blood that should have antibodies) in triple-vaccinated healthcare workers as well as infected patients during the omicrons BA.1 and B.5 pandemics. BF.7 was partly resistant to neutralization, due to the R346T mutation. China is seeing a significant increase in COVID infections, as it abandons its zero-COVID strategy. EPA-EFE/WU HOAO
BF.7 all over the globe
BF.7 was also detected in many other countries, including India and the US. The UK, and several European countries like Belgium, France, Germany, and Denmark.
Despite BF.7 being immune-evasive and worrying signs about its expansion in China, the variant appears to be stable elsewhere. It was found to be responsible for 5.7% of infections in the US, compared to 6.6% the week before.
The UK Health Security Agency had identified BF.7 in a technical shorting in October as one of the most worrying variants in terms of growth and neutralization data. However, the most current briefing states that BF.7 has been reduced in incidence and low growth rates in Britain.
We don’t know exactly why the situation looks different in China. BF.7’s high R0 might be due in part to a low level of immunity in the Chinese population from a previous infection, and possibly vaccination too. We should, of course, be cautious about the data from China as it’s based on reports, not peer-reviewed evidence yet.
An evolving virus
Three years after the first appearance of SARS-CoV-2, the virus has evolved faster than expected, acquiring more genetic mutations.
It is alarming to see BF.7 and new variants emerging. Vaccination is still the best way to combat COVID. The UK’s drugs regulator has approved bivalent boosters that target omicron in addition to the original strain SARS-CoV-2. This is very encouraging.
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