Worldwide death rates have not increased from the latest COVID-19 viruses.

The full effects of the “children” of the Omicron virus are being seen around the world. In Europe and the United States, infections from the BA.2 variant are peaking, while in South Africa the BA.4/5 variants are also reaching the peak of infections. In Portugal, which had a severe outbreak with these viruses, infections are also decreasing.

From my perspective, the important issue is what outcome have we observed with these infections and how it might predict the future with new COVID-19 variants.

All of these variants are incredibly infectious. Soon after arriving in an area, these viruses have overwhelmed prior COVID strains and become the dominant form of COVID-19. Infections in the U.S. are at least 4-5 times what were seen a year ago (and this is likely an underestimate). Despite this, hospitalizations remain low, particularly in ICU’s, and deaths have not increased.

In South Africa, where the BA.4 and BA.5 variants preceded the BA.2 wave in the U.S., this wave of infections has started to recede, and the results are interesting. As Tweeted by the remarkable Ridhwaan Suliman, PhD (Senior Researcher @CSIR and an applied mathematician), the fifth wave of infections in SA in the Gauteng Provence was significant, but much like Omicron, there was an uncoupling of infections from hospitalizations and deaths.

The five COVID waves in SA. Note the deaths and hospitalizations (red and green lines) were much less with the omicron and BA.4/BA.5 waves..

This is similar to what has been seen in the U.S., where the BA.2 infection numbers are high, but deaths and ICU admissions remained low. Despite the low rate of serious infections, a new internet posting has raised the issue of worse symptoms associated with BA.2.

An unreviewed study suggests symptoms with the BA.2 variant are worse than symptoms from omicron.

However, this finding may just be related to most people being farther out from their booster shot when they encountered BA.2.

Additionally, the NYTimes raised the concern that BA.4/BA.5 better evade immunity than BA.2 and will infect people previously infected with COVID-19. But again, the people being infected with these variants were not exposed to BA.2, so immunity from that infection or subsequent boosters was not factored in. Also, the SA data show BA.4/BA.5 do not cause more severe disease.

In summary, the new rounds of infection with COVID have not caused severe disease along with many ICU admissions or deaths. Each wave of COVID illness seems to get smaller as protective immunity gets more diffuse through the population. This is a very positive sign.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

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