Since the COVID variant omicron emerged in late 2021, it has rapidly evolved into multiple subvariants. One subvariant, BF.7, has recently been identified as the main variant spreading in Beijing, and is contributing to a wider surge of COVID infections in China.
But what is this new variant, and should we be worried? Although reports from China about this variant’s characteristics are concerning, it doesn’t appear to be growing too much elsewhere in the world. Here’s what we know.
BF.7, short for BA.188.8.131.52, is a sub-lineage of the omicron variant BA.5.
Reports from China indicate BF.7 has the strongest infection ability out of the omicron subvariants in the country, being quicker to transmit than other variants, having a shorter incubation period, and with greater capacity to infect people who have had a previous COVID infection, or been vaccinated, or both.
To put this into context, BF.7 is believed to have an R0, or basic reproduction number, of 10 to 18.6. This means an infected person will transmit the virus to an average of 10 to 18.6 other people. Research has shown omicron has an average R0 of 5.08.
The high transmission rate of BF.7, taken with the risk of hidden spread due to the many asymptomatic carriers, is understood to be causing significant difficulty in controlling the epidemic in China.
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The symptoms of an infection with BF.7 are similar to those associated with other omicron subvariants, primarily upper respiratory symptoms. Patients may have a fever, …