What is Covid variant BF.7? New strain of Omicron in UK, is it variant of concern and symptoms - explained

BQ.X, BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 are all Covid Omicron variants

A number of new Covid variants are currently circulating in the UK, including BF.7, but what is this variant and is it of concern? Here’s what you need to know.

BF.7 is a Covid Omicron variant currently circulating in the UK. The variant is also currently spreading in several countries, with experts keeping an eye on it.

The variant reportedly accounts for 25% of Covid cases in Belgium, as well as 10% of cases in Germany, France and Denmark. Cases of BF.7 have also increased rapidly in recent days in the United States.

BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Covid Omicron variant BA.5.2.1. Globally, there are 9,809 sequences identified, with Belgium representing the most samples (1,752) and there are 663 samples with this lineage in the UK.

BQ.X, BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 are currently the most concerning variantsBQ.X, BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 are currently the most concerning variants
BQ.X, BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 are currently the most concerning variants

Is it a variant of concern?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) explained that from UK data, BQ.X, BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 are currently the most concerning variants and will be prioritised for vaccine effectiveness assessment.

Although all of the new variants are currently at relatively low individual prevalence in the UK, BA.2.75.X, BF.7 and BQ.X show evidence of a positive growth rate compared to the BA.5 variant.

Variants may also be contributing to the current increase in Covid cases, but due to the age mix of those infected and “the timing of the increase in incidence compared to the variant prevalence”, it is “likely” that other factors are contributing, the UKHSA said.

Martin Michaelis , professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, said the Omicron subvariant BA.5 is still currently the “dominant” variant of Covid, but the three sub variants BQ.X, BA.2.75.2, and BF.7 seem to have “gained ground”.

He added that although the number of people infected with these three variants is still small, they seem to have a “growth advantage” over BA.5, which means there is a chance that they may replace BA.5.

Prof Michaelis said these three sub variants also seem to be “better at bypassing pre-existing immunity from vaccination and previous infections than BA.5”.

BQ.X, BA.2.75.2, and BF.7 are currently the Covid variants that are “considered to have the highest potential to cause the next COVID-19 wave,” he added.

“It is likely that they already contribute to the increase in Covid-19 cases that we are detecting at the moment.”

However, he said it is still too early to tell whether one of them will “outcompete the others and take over” and it’s also not yet known whether these variants may cause more severe disease than BA.5.

It’s also not yet clear whether these variants may be associated with more severe disease than previous Omicron variants. “The only thing that seems very likely is that Covid will keep evolving and that we will see further waves,” Prof Michaelis added.

What are the current symptoms of Covid?

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Covid study, recently issued an update on the most common symptoms being logged on the ZOE Covid Study app.

The following 10 symptoms were the most common:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Headache
  3. Cough (no phlegm)
  4. Blocked nose
  5. Runny nose
  6. Cough (with phlegm)
  7. Sneezing
  8. Hoarse voice
  9. Muscle pains and aches
  10. Fatigue
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