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  • A new subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus strain has been detected.
  • Dubbed the “stealth” variant, it has mutations that make it different from the original Omicron variant.
  • Experts say that, currently, there are no signs that it’s very different from the original Omicron strain.

The BA.2 Omicron sub-variant, also known as the “stealth” sub-variant, has been detected in 83 countries around the world, according to data from GISAID, with new surges happening in Denmark.

Infectious disease experts are keeping an eye on this even more contagious version of the Omicron variant, reported to be 30 percent more contagious, as it now represents nearly 4 percent of new infections in the United States.

While it may be even more infectious than the original omicron variant, there’s no evidence so far that it’s likely to overstep vaccine protection.

Experts say it’s important to monitor the subvariant. But so far, there are no signs that it’s more dangerous or infectious than the original Omicron.

Still, the introduction of any subvariant is worrying for a global population who’s experiencing COVID fatigue, as well as emotional and mental exhaustion.

When it comes to tackling the new Omicron subvariant, here is what we know right now.

The new version of the variant is known as BA.2, while the original Omicron is BA.1. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the BA.2 subvariant differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including the spike protein.

Some experts are calling the new subvariant the “stealth Omicron” because while it registers as positive on a PCR test, it isn’t immediately discernible as the Omicron variant.

“Omicron and other COVID viruses can mutate when they infect new persons and multiply abundantly,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine, department of health policy, and professor of medicine, division of infectious diseases, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“The majority of such mutations, or genetic changes, are harmless and have no impact. By statistical chance, a mutation, or a series of mutations, can occur that can alter one or more of the basic characteristics of the virus,” he said.

The facts and data about COVID may cause worry in some people. But the new subvariant of Omicron is not showing researchers that it’s any more contagious or harmful than the original Omicron variant.

“There are three characteristics of COVID virus variants that are of greatest concern,” Schaffner said. “They are increased contagiousness, an increased capacity to produce more severe disease, and the ability to evade the protection provided by vaccination and/or previous COVID infection.”

As of now, the BA.2 subvariant has not shown any major differences in age distribution, vaccination status, breakthroughs, or risk of hospitalization, according to early data.

The World Health Organization said more study is needed to understand the risk of the variant.

“The BA.2 descendant lineage, which differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries,” the WHO wrote on its website. “Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently [and comparatively] to BA.1.”

Schaffner pointed out that so far, there are no huge red flags that this variant of Omicron is vastly different from the original variant.

“It would be difficult for any variant to be more contagious than Omicron, and there is no indication that the subvariant is more contagious,” said Schaffner.

“The principal issue that is under investigation is how different the subvariant is,” he added. “Will our vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments still be effective against the subvariant?”

The message remains the same, no matter which variants are studied. Vaccinations and boosters can be great ways to stay protected and protect others. You may want to consider talking with your doctor to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.