A new COVID variant is here. Here’s what you need to know.

The BA.5 variant is more contagious but less severe, experts say

Two Sanford Health nurses in surgical masks review an electronic COVID patient board while one nurse points to the screen.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the United States and omicron BA.5 is now the predominant variant, causing an estimated 78% of cases. Here’s what should you know to help keep your family safe.

Get boosted

Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., is the chief physician at Sanford Health.

Being vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect yourself and others against both infection and severe reactions to the virus, said Dr. Cauwels.

Paxlovid can help some patients

In addition to vaccinations and boosters, Dr. Cauwels said if you do contract COVID-19, you may want to see if you qualify for Paxlovid, an antiviral therapy.

“There were several medications that were tried. This happens to be the most effective medication with an efficacy rate of over 90%, which is fantastic. It has been good, no matter which variant they’ve tried it on,” he said.

The FDA authorized Paxlovid for people ages 12 and older but in order to qualify for a prescription, you must also have had a positive COVID-19 test and be at high risk for developing severe COVID-19.

Paxlovid typically eradicates the virus within five days, Dr. Cauwels said. The incubation period for BA.5 is only two or three days, which is much shorter than previous versions of COVID-19.

Symptoms of BA.5

Symptoms of BA.5 are similar to previous variants, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue

Dr. Cauwels said it’s difficult to compare severities of the variants, since each patient is different.

“Individual severity may not be that different. Meaning, if you were someone who carried a lot of chronic conditions and were going to get sick, you might still get very sick. And so I think that’s a big difference to point out that what we’re dealing with now is helping the individual get through as best they can,” Dr. Cauwels said.

Where to get your COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Cauwels said communities are safest when everyone is working together to stay healthy. The best way to do that, he said, is through the COVID-19 vaccine and booster.

He encourages patients to get boosted, and unvaccinated patients to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“If you truly haven’t gotten any vaccination whatsoever, there is good evidence to say that the combination of previous COVID and a vaccination is still a very good form of protection,” he said.

You can schedule your vaccine through My Sanford Chart, or by calling My Sanford Nurse.

Information in this article was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations