Covid19. Symptoms, rate of spread… What you need to know about the new BQ.1.1 variant

And here is the latest: BQ.1.1. For now, in France, where different subvariants of Omicron are spreading, the epidemic continues to be dominated by BA.5. Two “adapted” bivalent vaccines have also been available since early October for booster doses.

High immune escape

The Covid-19 epidemic is increasingly resulting in the coexistence of several versions of the virus, currently all from the Omicron variant, as shown by the successive results of flash studies in recent months:

Highly infectious, actively circulating and confronted with immunity acquired via vaccines or previous infections, Omicron has given rise to dozens of different subversions through numerous mutations:

One of the latest, BQ.1.1, is worrisome for at least one reason: its mutations are likely to lead to very strong immune escape. As such, it can replace the others more or less quickly. But above all, it leads to a very large number of infections, such as the first avatars of Omicron at the end of 2021 and in 2022.

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A situation which, shortly before the start of winter, can be worrying: if hospitalizations have become less frequent with Covid-19, a very significant spread necessarily leads to a significant amount.

Nausea, stomach ache… Really new symptoms?

BQ.1.1 would now weigh between 1 and 6% of cases in France according to the rare sequence data. The current low screening rate and the low level of sequencing prevent us from seeing things more clearly: “Today, to sequence, we are asked for 5% of the samples from a single day”, explains a biologist from the center of France.

What about symptoms? Some fragmentary and poorly substantiated data from Thailand and the UK mention abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting as frequent symptoms with BQ.1.1.

So much so that serious specialists have sometimes propagated them in return… before backing off. This is the case of pediatrician Rémi Salomon, very advanced regarding the Covid-19 pandemic:

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The arrival of the BQ.1.1 variant is not good news. It has the peculiarity of causing diarrhea and vomiting

Rémi Salomon before correcting his message

Several cases of Covid-19 infected with BQ.1.1 have testified to such symptoms. Doctors report these disorders “clearly more frequently”.

But “in a context of strong circulation of different viruses, it is difficult to deduce that these not very specific symptoms are due to the subvariant”, nuances a medical biologist.

Above all, to varying degrees, digestive problems from the start belong to the symptoms regularly observed with Covid-19: they appeared in 5 to 10% of patients infected with the Alpha or Delta variants.

Since the start of Covid we have had people with stomach aches. I never made the link to BQ.1.1

Dr. Jérôme Marty, in Le Parisien

It is therefore above all its infectious potential that is likely to cause a strong epidemic wave in the heart of winter, which is of particular concern. Especially since the epidemic is more and more difficult to “figure out”: today several sub-variants coexist, and are different in the different regions of the world.

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