The Omicron BA.5 variant is the dominant coronavirus strain in the US, according to the CDC.
Its symptoms are similar to past Omicron subvariants: a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose.
Experts say BA.5 infections may lead to less severe cases of COVID-19 than early ones.
The Omicron BA.5 subvariant has become the dominant coronavirus strain in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While this variant is fast-spreading, it appears to be less severe than early versions of the virus, and its symptoms are similar to those of other Omicron subvariants, experts say.
Symptoms of Omicron infections are typically coldlike, including a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. Symptoms like fever, chills, and cough are still seen sometimes in Omicron cases but not as frequently as in earlier variants of the virus.
Like past variants in the Omicron lineage, BA.5 seems to primarily affect the upper respiratory tract, according to experts at the University of Colorado. Symptoms like a sore throat and nasal congestion indicate that the virus has infiltrated the nose and airways, but Omicron is less likely to affect the lungs compared with past variants, Drs. Thomas Campbell and Steven Johnson, two infectious-disease experts, said in a news release.
Loss of smell, which was a signature symptom in early COVID-19 cases, is rarely seen with the Omicron subvariants — likely because that symptom indicates the virus has affected the nervous system.
Hundreds of people in the US are dying every day from COVID
The BA.5 subvariant accounts for about 53% of COVID-19 infections in the country, according to the CDC.
As symptoms remain similar to recent Omicron subvariants, severity seems to be decreasing with BA.5, Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Insider. Getting infected with the coronavirus or exposed to it via vaccine teaches the immune system to respond to the threat without overwhelming the body, he added.
"Just as the virus is adapting, so too are our bodies," Dowdy said. "It's not like with every variant things are getting worse. If anything, our bodies are getting smarter and we're seeing fewer and fewer serious infections."
Even if the virus doesn't cause severe illness in most people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was still a risk that hospitals may become overwhelmed because of the transmissibility of the strain.
"This is still a virus that's killing hundreds of people in the US a day, and that's hundreds of people who don't need to be dying," Dowdy said. "At the same time, the average case is getting milder over time."
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