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HV.1 Variant Becomes the New Face of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Amidst the onset of winter, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, HV.1, has emerged at the forefront of public health concerns, emerging as the predominant strain in the United States. Several variants of this virus are currently spreading infections, with the HV.1 being the most dominant one.

Emergence of the HV.1 variant

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HV.1, a subvariant of omicron, emerged in the late summer, quickly surpassing other strains by October. By Dec. 9, it constituted nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases.

The Virus is Capable of Maturing

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Following HV.1, JN.1, an offshoot of BA.2.86, accounted for 21% of cases, with EG.5 trailing. All dominant variants are descendants of omicron, demonstrating the ability of this virus to mutate.

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Protection through vaccines

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Despite the surge in cases, the updated COVID-19 vaccines, introduced in September, offer protection against newer strains, including HV.1 and JN.1. However, vaccine uptake remains low in the country.

Resurgence of COVID-19

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After a late summer surge and a fall lull, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. increased by 11.5% in the last two weeks. The winter is expected to bring further increases. With respiratory virus season peaking, influenza surging, and RSV activity high, increased holiday travel and indoor gatherings pose a risk for virus spread, experts warn.

Insights from experts

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Experts note that while HV.1 is mutated, it is not a cause for major concern. Variants like BA.2.86 and the fast-growing JN.1 have raised alarms due to significant mutations.

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Transmissibility of the HV.1 variant

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Like other omicron sub-variants, HV.1 is highly transmissible, leading to its rapid dominance. Experts suggest it may spread more effectively and slightly evade prior immunity.

Symptoms of HV.1 infection

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HV.1 symptoms are similar to previous variants, including sore throat, congestion, runny nose, cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, fever, and chills. COVID-19 symptoms, concentrated in the upper respiratory tract, often start with a sore throat and progress to congestion or a runny nose. Coughing may persist as chronic bronchitis.

Should you get yourself tested?

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All COVID-19 tests can detect HV.1. Testing is crucial to distinguish COVID-19 from other viruses with similar symptoms, such as RSV and influenza. However, testing has diminished in the U.S., raising concerns. The end of free testing with the public health emergency in May has led to varied testing costs based on insurance.

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Effectiveness of vaccines

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The updated COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for all ages. Laboratory studies indicate its effectiveness against serious disease caused by HV.1, providing significant protection.

Update on vaccine uptake

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As of Dec. 15, only about 18% of adults and 8% of children have received the updated vaccine. Initial challenges, including supply delays and insurance obstacles, slowed the rollout.

Booster recommendations

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It’s not too late to get the updated booster. Health officials emphasize its importance, especially as COVID-19 is expected to surge during the winter season.

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Vaccine options

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Three vaccine options for 2023-2024 are authorized: mRNA shots from Moderna and Pfizer and a protein-based non-mRNA shot from Novavax. Insurance plans should cover the updated booster.

Protective measures

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As winter and the holiday season approach, following protective measures remains crucial. These include staying up to date with vaccines, testing if symptomatic, isolating when positive, and practicing good hygiene.

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