New Covid subvariants dominate U.S. and Mass. infections

BOSTON — Just as the holiday season gets underway, a left-hook from Covid that could mar plans for a return to normalcy.

The CDC reports that new subvariants surged into dominance this week, at a time when the collective American guard against infection is way down.

The CDC estimates more than 57 percent of U.S. Covid infections are now due to the ‘BQ’ subvariants: BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Combined, those subvariants knocked BA5 from dominance -- a spot it held since last July. In New England, the numbers are similar, with nearly 56 percent of cases attributable to the BQ subvariants, a nearly 50 percent increase in two weeks.

“These latest iterations of Covid that we’re talking about are very, very transmissible,” Dr. Michael Hirsh told Boston 25 News last month.

Hirsh, a professor at UMass Chan Medical School and Medical Director for the city of Worcester, said it doesn’t appear the BQ subvariants ‘pack the punch’ of some of its predecessors, such as the Delta variant.

But, that doesn’t mean BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are necessarily benign. For one thing, they are thought to evade immunity. Hirsh is especially concerned with infections in the immunocompromised or those with pre-existing medical conditions. “If you’re a higher risk patient you’ll be the one, unfortunately, that ends up in an emergency room,” he said.

One way to potentially avoid that fate is to get boosted with the bivalent shot. Hirsh said though it isn’t specific to the BQ subvariants it does appear to offer protection from serious illness.

It might also be a good idea to consider tried-and-true protective measures, Hirsh suggested.

“Seems like a lot of people are, you know, feeling ‘I’m done with the pandemic,’” Hirsh said. “We’re just saying, it’s not gone. Don’t throw away your mask. I know people are tired after two-and-a-half years of this, But I think we have a little more struggle to go.”

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