Fall and winter have not been kind to us in recent years.
In 2020, cases of COVID-19 began to rise in October. But this time last year, we were in a calm case before the storm, so to speak, before the omicron variant counts slowly began to dip on their way to global dominance at the end of November (SN: 12/1/21). What will happen in our third pandemic winter, as the virus continues to develop, and many people embrace their masks?
I will tell you the only time. But there are already some warning signs that we could prevent yet another wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Cases and hospitalizations have increased in some European countries, including the United Kingdom.
What happens across the pond is generally indicative of what will happen in the United States. In the United States and in most states, the cases are still going down. But experts may not be worried for the time being, as temperatures drop and more people congregate indoors where the coronavirus tends to spread more. Some northern states, for example, have seen a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the country, suggesting an uptick in transmission even if it is not yet reflected in official counts.SN: 4/22/22).
There is also wild thistle this year, a complicated matter. New omicron versions abound. At what point do they move into a pandemic in the near future?
It is difficult to answer. On the one hand, we are in a very different place than we were two years ago or even last year, with more treatments in hand and omicron-specific courses (SN: 5/11/22; SN: 9/2/22). But the coronavirus has been known to throw us a few curves. Experts expect winter to bring yet another wave, but what it will look like and how high it will crest is uncertain.
“Although we can feel good that we are moving in the right direction, we cannot be safe,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci at an October 4 webinar held by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center. in the Los Angeles Health Journal.
There is some good news: Most people have been exposed to the virus, either through vaccination or through – the less desirable route – exposure or both. The wealth of our immune systems has been shot in the bald man’s hand. Our immune system and T cells are trained to kick into high gear if the coronavirus travels some bells and enters the nose, throat or lungs.
These immune barriers can minimize the virus’s ability to spread to humans, and protect many from becoming seriously ill. As a result, fewer people may end up in the hospital or die in earlier years.
But then there’s bad news: Over the past year, omicron variants have taken on a few tricks in the form of mutations that help the virus hide from our immune systems. Over the summer, a version called BA.5 rose to dominance, out of the close relatives BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. Now researchers are keeping tabs on a new batch of alphanumeric versions of omicrons.
It is possible that a new variant of the puzzle will suddenly be able to compare and execute all its relatives, such as the delta and omicron variants in 2021. The next name on the list would be “pi”.
But another – perhaps more likely – possibility is that during the next few months our attention will not be focused on one type that is sweeping the world, but on the examination of new variants. In part thanks to the kind of weapons between the immune systems and our host.
With so many people having some form of protection, compared to 2020 or early 2021, the coronavirus must be constantly changing the ways it requires those protections to spread. Some circulating variants have now independently acquired the same mutations, conferring similar abilities to the elements in lab tests, researchers report in a preliminary study posted Oct. 4 at bioRxiv.org. With many variants using the same strategies to get around the immune system, it can be hard for one variant to come out on top.
The two most recent versions of omicron, BQ.1.1 and BA.2.75.2, are more apt to detect some specific antibodies taken from people who have recovered from BA.2 or BA.5 infection, the researchers found. That means some people may be more susceptible to another infection if the new versions, which are only present at a low level in the United States, spread widely this fall.
Officials have already taken some steps to tackle this ever-changing virus. This fall, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna released mRNA versions of their vaccines that take on both the original version of the coronavirus and the omicron to give immune systems a refreshing run. But few of these renewed blows make him in arms. Half of US adults say they have heard little to nothing about COVID-19 boosters, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Sept. 30. And so far, only about 4 percent of people age 12 or older have gotten new piercings. (On October 12, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on bivalent boosters for 5- to 11-year-olds).
What’s more, the continued development of Omicron means that vulnerable people are rapidly losing covid 19 treatment options. The Oct. 4 study, which has not yet been published, also found that the last bastion of antibody drugs used to treat or protect high-risk patients — therapies called bebtelovimab and Evusheld — did not recognize any of the new variants. tested in the lab dishes. But on October 3, the FDA warned that Evusheld, which is used in a pre-existing treatment to protect immunocompromised people, does not work with all variants. The drug still provides protection against many variants currently available, the FDA said, as does the antiviral Paxlovid.
Another unknown as we look this winter is how much other respiratory infections will add to the already heavy covid burden. Flu season in Australia, usually the bellwether for our northern equatorial region, was back after two years and got an earlier start than usual. Experts once again warn of a possible “twindemic” in the Northern Hemisphere, with the flu and the corona virus causing harm (SN: 9/18/20). Not to mention, there are myriads of other infections that most people have not been exposed to in the last two years due to masks and social distancing.
This is not to say that everyone needs to prepare for another winter alone. But it is a moderate warning that extra caution is used to be wise before social and personal tests – especially around vulnerable people – even as we progress in life. And this reminded me: I need to order more people.
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