The BF.7 COVID variant, is reportedly the dominant variant in the country, and has been pegged to be the driving force behind the current wave in Beijing.
Is it a new variant?
No. BF.7 is a subvariant of a subvariant of the Omicron COVID variant that was first detected in April 2021.
Omicron, by far, has multiple identified variants, and BF.7, short for BA.5.217, is just one of the sublineages of the BA.5 Omicron subvariant.
How is this subvariant different from other Omicron strains? Why is it In the news?
BF.7 is making news because it's reportedly the dominant strain in China, and is suspected to be behind the current COVID surge in Beijing.
However, according to experts, the surge can also be attributed to asymptomatic patients spreading the virus, making it difficult to control the spread.
Although BF.7 is dominant in China, so far, there have not been reports of it growing considerably in other countries.
Has it been detected in India?
Yes, the first case of BF.7 was detected in India in July.
So far, four cases of BF.7 have reportedly been detected in India, but there are no known active cases at the moment, official sources said.
Moreover, BA.5 was first detected in May 2022, and since then various sublineages of this subvariant have been identified in the country.
Is it a variant of concern?
Since BF.7 is a sublineage of Omicron, and is not considered a separate variant, it will be treated as a variant of concern like all other Omicron subvariants.
Are there any new symptoms associated with it?
No, so far, no new symptoms have been linked to BF.7 specifically. The common symptoms continue to be those associated with the Omicron variant -mostly restricted to upper respiratory symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, and cough.
Symptoms may also include,
I've already had COVID before. Am I protected?
As per reports, BF.7 Omicron variant is quicker to transmit, has a short incubation period, and infects people easily, even those who have had COVID before.
In a statement released back in June, Dr Tulio de Oliveira, Director, CERI (Centre for Epidemic Response & innovation) said that prior infection with other Omicron variants, particularly the original BA.1 does not protect against BA.5 subvariant.
Can it circumvent vaccine protection?
Previous studies have found that the BA.5 Omicron subvariant is able to circumvent vaccine protection. This is true for BF.7 too.
In fact, a recent study found that BF.7 was able to infect even triple vaccinated people, and those who have hybrid immunity (vaccinated, and have had prior COVID infection).
But, the good news is that vaccines are still able to protect from severe illness and death, particularly the mRNA vaccines, say experts.
In a review meeting chaired by Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on 21 December, Abhijit Sharma, Superintendent, Gauhati Medical College Hospital, Guwahati said, "With effective vaccination, we are safe, but we should continue taking precautions."
How is the government tracking it?
On Tuesday, 20 December, the Union Health Ministry instructed states to increase genome sequencing of positive COVID cases in order to track the variants currently infecting people in India.
Ina review meeting held on 21 December, Union Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya said, that all concerned authorites have been told to strengthen surveillance.
How can I protect myself?
No matter the strain, the measures to protect yourself from the virus remains the same.
Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
Mask up when you notice symptoms in you or others around you
Get vaccinated, and boosted if necessary
Get tested if you develop COVID like symptoms and isolate yourself if you test positive
"Governments should be very busy in pushing people to wear N-95 masks. They should ask people to take their booster doses, and encourage them to do so - these are the things in real terms will prevent the virus from spreading," said Dr Aviral Vatsa, Physician, NHS, Scotland, speaking to FIT for a different story.