This isn’t the first time BF.7 has been in the news. In October, it began to replace several of the dominant variants in the United States and in many European countries.
According to some, the current spike in Covid-19-related infections in China may be due to Omicron’s BF.7 subvariant. This isn’t the first time BF.7 has been in the news. In October, it began to replace several of the dominant variants in the United States and Europe.
What are our knowledge about BF.7?
Mutations in viruses create lineages and sub-lineages. This is like the main trunk of the SARS-CoV-2 Tree sprouting branches and sub-branches. The BF.7 is identical to BA.126.96.36.199 which is a sublineage of the Micron sublineage BA.5.
Virus and fear surge in China: what’s happening and why?
A study published in Cell Host and Microbe journal earlier this month revealed that the BF.7 subvariant has a 4.4-fold greater neutralisation resistance than its original D614G counterpart. This means that antibodies from an infected or vaccinated individual are less likely to kill BF.7 in a laboratory setting than those produced by the original Wuhan virus, which spread globally in 2020.
However, BF.7 may not be the most resilient subvariant. A study by the same team found a 10-fold increase in neutralisation resistance for another Omicron subvariant, BQ.1.
Higher neutralization resistance means that the variant is more likely to spread in a population, replacing other variants.
BF.7 was responsible for more than 5% US cases and 7.26% UK cases in October. Scientists from the West closely monitored the variant, but there was no significant increase in cases or hospitalizations in these countries.
Omicron’s BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants drove the January 2022 wave. Sub-variants BA.4 (and later BA.5) were not as common in India as in European countries. India also saw very few cases BF.7, which is an offshoot from BA.5).
According to data from India’s SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence network, only 2.5% of November cases were from BA.5 lines. Currently, XBB, a recombinant version, is the most prevalent variant in India. It accounts for 65.6% in all November cases.
What was the difference in China?
Experts think it was not the BF.7 variant’s higher transmissibility and immune evasiveness that caused the rise in Chinese cases, but rather the immune-naive population that drove the increase.
Former head of India’s Covid-19 genome sequence consortium INSACOG Dr Anurag Agarwal stated that China is experiencing an Omicron surge similar to the one Hong Kong experienced when it lifted its restrictions.
“The Omicron wave seemed milder to us because the population was protected by previous infection and vaccination. We have already paid the price for the Delta wave (April-May 2022). Some people died, but those who survived were more immune. Omicron has mostly been killing its elderly victims, and India (India) does have a younger population,” Dr Agarwal stated.
Even highly transmissible variants don’t cause a flood of cases. Most people recover after a bout with fever, cough, or sore throat.
Dr Agarwal stated that only three countries didn’t pay a lot of this “price”, and that they were closed until they were able vaccinate all the population.
He said that the case numbers are no longer important as the increase in infections is not always accompanied by an increase of serious cases that require hospitalisation or death.
“Omicron continues to mutate to escape immune pressures and we have seen increases in cases in many other countries.”
According to the WHO dashboard, China has a high level of vaccination 235.5 doses per 100,000 people. China is one of the first countries to have developed and administered vaccines to its people. It was also the first country to do so against the coronavirus.
Since 2020, the virus has been mutated numerous times. The Omicron variants of the virus are well-known to be immune to most vaccines.
(Indeed Omicron waves from India infected many people who had been double-vaccinated. Many companies have developed bivalent vaccines to offer better protection.
“Vaccines were able to stop the spread of the disease until Omicron. Dr Agarwal stated that although vaccines can’t stop transmission after Omicron, they can prevent deaths.
He also noted that mRNA vaccines, such as the ones created by Moderna and Pfizer, have been more successful than ‘dead viruses’ vaccines like those used in China. There is much debate over which vaccines are more effective than others. Dr Agarwal stated that Hong Kong has clear evidence that those who have received the mRNA vaccines did better than those who had received the killed virus vaccine.
Are there any signs of a new pandemic or bad global wave?
Professor of virology at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, which is linked to INSACOG says that although it is possible for a new variant to emerge due the high incidence of transmission in China, Dr Ekta Gopta believes it unlikely.
“The mutations in spike protein have slowed, there hasn’t been a huge change in about a year. We have not seen any new variants, only sub-lineages. She said that the distance between Delta’s spike protein and the original D614G variant, and Delta, and even Omicron was significantly greater than what we see now.
Dr Gupta cautioned, however, against ignoring all precautions. “SARS-CoV-2, a human virus, is here to stay. The possibility of an increase in Covid-19 cases during winters when there is an increase in all respiratory illnesses, could increase.
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