Where BQ.1 is most prevalent: 5 notes on the new COVID-19 variant

CDC estimates indicate a new omicron variant, BQ.1, and its descendent BQ.1.1 account for 11.4 percent of cases nationwide. The pair have been dubbed "escape variants" for their ability to escape immunity and are currently most prevalent in New York and New Jersey, where they account for nearly 20 percent of new infections.

BA.5 remains dominant in the U.S., though its prevalence is quickly falling. For the week ending Oct. 15, BA.5 accounted for about 68 percent of cases while a slew of other omicron variants have gained traction. Nationwide, cases and hospitalizations are still down, but there are growing signs the U.S. will face a surge in the coming weeks and months. In the Northeast, where BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are most prevalent, hospitalizations have ticked up in recent weeks, according to HHS data compiled by The New York Times. 

Here are four more things to know about BQ.1 and BQ.1.1: 

1. Disease experts have described the strains as "the most evasive" yet, pointing to their ability to completely resist existing monoclonal antibody drugs. In an Oct. 14 report,  Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News that this is one of the key reasons experts are so concerned about BQ.1, along with its "pretty troublesome doubling time." A spokesperson for AstraZeneca, the maker of the antibody drug Evusheld, told the news outlet they didn't yet have data on how the BQ.1 pair may affect the drug's efficacy.

2. While the pair has a number of mutations that indicate they can dodge immunity from prior infections, vaccinations or both, scientists are still trying to learn more about how they may affect disease severity, according to CBS

3. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 appear to be on track to overtake BA.4.6, which currently accounts for about 12.2 percent of cases nationwide. 

4. Experts are optimistic that the bivalent omicron boosters will offer protection against BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 since they're descendants of BA.5. (Updated boosters are designed to target the original SARS-CoV-2 strain, BA.4 and BA.5.)

"The bad news is that there's a new variant that's emerging and that has qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have. But, the somewhat encouraging news is that it's a BA.5 sublineage, so there are almost certainly going to be some cross protection that you can boost up," Dr. Fauci said. 


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