Virus Expert Warns You're at "Risk of Being Reinfected" If You Did This

Researchers are learning more and more about your chances of contracting COVID again.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, it was widely believed that if you survived an infection from the coronavirus, you were safe from getting it again. Since then we've learned that you can get reinfected—sometimes many times, and particularly with different variants. It's also become clearer than ever that the protection from vaccination alone isn't a surefire way to prevent you from getting COVID again (and again). While researchers are still working to understand more about COVID reinfection, one virus expert has a new warning about who could be at higher risk than expected. Read on to find out if you may be vulnerable to the virus now.

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Two Omicron subvariants are gaining traction in the U.S.

Doctor using digital tablet and talking to patient at home

While the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 just became the dominant COVID variant in the U.S. a few weeks ago, two new versions of the virus are already posed to take over. According to U.S. News & World Report, Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are spreading across the country now at a rapid pace. At the beginning of May, the CDC's data indicated that these two variants were responsible for just about 1 percent of infections. But as of June 4, BA.4 and BA.5's coverage has jumped up closer to 13 percent.

"Until this weekend, there was uncertainty about whether BA.4 and BA.5 would compete with the current dominant variant," Alexandre Bolze, PhD, a senior staff scientist at Helix, a company that tracks coronavirus variants, told the magazine. But now, he expects that they will become the dominant versions of the virus soon.

These fast spreading variants could prompt another COVID surge.

sick man sitting on a sofa in the room

Some experts are already worried that the rise of these two Omicron subvariants could propel another spike in infections. "It's possible that [BA.4 and BA.5] could lead to some level of surge beyond what we see now or at least slow down the return to a lower baseline of cases," Tom Inglesby, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said on a June call with reporters, per U.S. News & World Report.

According to Belize, the U.S. should likely expect to see an "increase in cases" with there rise of these two variants, but he doesn't suspect there will be a substantial rise in hospitalizations. "It is too soon to say whether [a surge] will happen, but we have seen that BA.4 and BA.5 have had a big impact in some other countries in the world," Inglesby added.

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Virus experts have a new warning about reinfection.

Doctor with protection gloves doing Coronavirus nasal swab test on young female patient

This doesn't just spell trouble for the few who haven't been hit by COVID yet, however. If you were infected by the original Omicron variant BA.1, you could still find yourself susceptible to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. "People infected in December or January in the first Omicron wave may be at risk of being reinfected," Bolze confirmed to U.S. News & World Report.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned about the possibility earlier this month, reporting on June 1 that "evolving evidence suggests that an Omicron BA.1 infection offers only limited protection against symptomatic disease caused by the emerging sub-lineages of Omicron."

Wesley Long, MD, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, told NBC 5 Chicago that this is because the two subvariants contain a genetic mutation that appears to allow the virus "to escape pre-existing immunity" from prior infection, "especially if you were infected in the Omicron wave." The original Omicron variant did not have this mutation, Long added.

You might not be protected even if you were also vaccinated.

Closeup of medical worker's hands in blue protective gloves injecting vaccine booster shot into elderly patient's shoulder,Coronavirus vaccination against COVID-19 virus disease,immunity certificate

The genetic mutation also seems to allows the two Omicron subvariants to escape immunity from vaccination, according to Long. A study preprinted May 26 on the bioRxiv server confirmed this assessment. The researchers for this study found that while BA.2.12.1 is only "modestly more resistant" to antibodies from vaccinated and boosted individuals than the original Omicron subvariant BA.2, the quickly spreading BA.4 and BA.5 strains are 4.2 fold more resistant. This means they're "substantially more resistant and thus more likely to lead to vaccine breakthrough infections," the study concluded.

According to Katelyn Jetelina, PhD, an epidemiologist and founder of Your Local Epidemiologist, this indicates that the two BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are likely to cause more trouble for everyone—even those vaccinated and boosted—than any of the other Omicron mutations.

"After our first massive BA.1 wave, BA.2 tried to take hold only to be overtaken by BA.2.12.1. Now, BA.4 and BA.5 are gaining traction very quickly and seem to be easily outcompeting the rest," Jetelina wrote in a May 31 email newsletter, per Deadline. "Given recent lab studies, though, this isn't a surprise. BA.4/5 are particularly good at escaping antibodies and reinfecting people previously infected with Omicron, as well as boosted individuals."

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