A new, highly contagious COVID-19 variant called HV.1 is spreading rapidly throughout the United States.
HV.1, which is a subvariant of omicron, is now the dominant strain in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientists have been tracking HV.1 since the summer, when it was circulating at relatively low levels. In October, HV.1 quickly gained speed and overtook other variants, including EG.5, also known as Eris, to become the most prevalent strain.
Currently, HV.1 is responsible for nearly a third of all COVID-19 cases in the US, according to the CDC. The variant’s rise to dominance comes as the country enters respiratory virus season and health officials roll out updated COVID-19 vaccines ahead of a potential winter surge.
According to the CDC, HV.1 accounted for approximately 29% of new COVID-19 cases during the two-week period ending November 11. After HV.1, the next most common variant in the US was EG.5, which accounted for just under 22% of cases, followed by FL.1.5.1 or “Fornax” and XBB.1.16 or “Arcturus.” (EG.5 remains the dominant strain worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.)
All of the most common COVID-19 strains in the US are offshoots of omicron, which first emerged in November 2021. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is capable of mutating and giving give rise to new highly contagious strains. variants.
However, health experts say there is no reason to panic about this new COVID variant.
After a surge in late summer, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been trending downward in recent weeks, according to CDC data. Additionally, the updated COVID-19 booster still offers protection against newer variants, although uptake has been very low so far, TODAY.com previously reported.
Infections are expected to rise again this winter, as was the case over the past three winter seasons, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells TODAY.com.
As HV.1 spreads, many are curious about whether the new subvariant is more contagious or severe, whether it might cause different symptoms, and when they should receive the new COVID-19 booster dose. Here’s what we know about HV.1 so far.
What is HV.1, the new variant of COVID?
HV.1 is part of the omicron family. “You can almost think of HV.1 as a grandson of omicron,” says Schaffner. HV.1 is a sublineage of the omicron XBB.1.9.2 and a direct descendant of EG.5, according to the CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 lineage tree.
“The COVID virus family likes to mutate. We’ve all learned it by now,” says Schaffner. Although HV.1 is mutated, it is still very close to the existing omicron subvariants, explains Schaffner.
For the most part, scientists aren’t worried about new variants like HV.1, which look a lot like strains we’ve seen before, NBC News reported.
However, there are some highly mutated strains that have raised alarm bells. These include BA.2.86 or Pirola, which has 36 additional mutations differentiating it from XBB.1.5., and a newer variant called JN.1, which has one more mutation than Pirola.
Fortunately, neither BA.2.86 nor JN.1 are common in the US at this time, according to the CDC: JN.1 is so rare that it accounts for less than 0.1% of SARS-CoV-2 cases.
As for HV.1, it quickly gained traction after first being detected last summer. At the end of July, HV.1 accounted for just 0.5% of COVID-19 cases in the US, CDC data shows. On September 30, HV.1 represented 12.5% of cases and, by November, it was the dominant strain.
Is HV.1 more transmissible?
“One of the characteristics of this entire family of omicrons is that they are highly transmissible,” Schaffner says. Sometimes mutations can allow a new variant to spread more effectively or quickly, according to the CDC.
Right now, it appears that HV.1 might transmit slightly better from person to person than previous strains, NBC News reported. HV.1’s greater transmissibility likely explains how it became dominant so quickly in the United States, Schaffner says.
It appears that HV.1 might also be slightly better at escaping pre-COVID-19 immunity, but not enough to cause alarm, said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Medical Center. Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston. he told NBC News.
Although more transmissible, HV.1 does not appear to cause more severe illness or cause more hospitalizations, Schaffer says.
What are the symptoms of HV.1?
Symptoms caused by HV.1 infection are similar to those caused by recent variants, Schaffner says, including:
- Sore throat
- Congestion or congestion
- Muscle pains
- Fever or chills
“Congestion, sore throat, and dry cough seem to be the three most prominent symptoms right now,” Schaffner says.
Increasingly, doctors report that COVID-19 symptoms appear to follow a pattern of concentrating in the upper respiratory tract, beginning with a sore throat and followed by a stuffy or runny nose, NBC News reported.
Cough is not usually a main symptom, but it may persist. “The virus seems to produce a kind of chronic bronchitis, so you can have a cough syndrome that lasts beyond the period in which you recover from other symptoms,” Schaffner says.
Another trend is that COVID-19 appears to be causing milder infections, probably because people have some prior immunity. “By milder we mean that it does not require hospitalization, although you may feel very ill for several days,” Schaffner says.
Do COVID-19 tests detect HV.1?
All COVID-19 tests, including PCR tests performed by a healthcare provider and at-home rapid antigen tests, will detect HV.1, Schaffner says.
Testing is a crucial tool to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. The symptoms of HV.1 and other COVID-19 variants can be very similar to those of other viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and rhinovirus, which usually causes the common cold.
“The only way to distinguish (COVID-19) from RSV and the flu, which are now gaining steam, is through testing,” Schaffner says.
Experts encourage anyone who has symptoms to get tested, especially those in high-risk groups: people over 65, immunocompromised, or who have underlying health conditions.
“We have treatments that can prevent more serious diseases,” Schaffner says, but early detection is key. COVID-19 antivirals like Paxlovid are effective against HV.1 and other variants, but work best within five days of symptoms appearing. TODAY.com previously reported.
Testing has decreased significantly in the United States over the past year, which is concerning, Schaffner says.
When the US federal public health emergency for COVID-19 ended in May, so did the guarantee of free testing for many people.
However, all Americans can still get free or low-cost COVID-19 testing at this time. One way is to request four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the government, which will be delivered by mail through the US Postal Service. To request your free tests, visit COVIDTests.gov.
Additionally, all health insurance plans must reimburse for eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. State Medicaid programs must also cover at-home testing, and Medicare beneficiaries and the uninsured can access free testing provided by Health and Human Services at thousands of health centers, clinics and community pharmacies.
If you still have a stockpile of tests, remember to check the expiration date and whether it has been extended by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Does the new COVID-19 vaccine protect against HV.1?
The CDC recommends the updated COVID-19 vaccine for everyone over 6 months old. It is now widely available in pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other places in the United States, Schaffner says.
The new boosters have been reformulated to target the omicron XBB.1.5, which was the dominant COVID variant for most of 2023. While is closely related to these. newer strains.
The updated vaccines appear to match well with the variants currently circulating and making people sick, Andrew Pekosz, Ph.D., a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, previously told TODAY.com.
“Laboratory studies indicate that the updated booster will protect against serious illness caused by HV.1,” Schaffner says. Vaccination also significantly reduces the risk of being hospitalized or dying, according to the CDC.
However, only 23 million Americans or 4.5% of the population had received the updated vaccines as of October 27, Reuters reported.
The first phase of the launch of the new booster ran into several obstacles, including supply delays, high demand, canceled appointments and insurance hurdles. Some parents have not been able to vaccinate their children because some pharmacies and pediatricians’ offices have had difficulty obtaining enough doses for children.
Although many of these teething problems have been resolved, Schaffner says, adoption remains slow. “We have underutilized this updated vaccine and anticipate that COVID will again rise even further during the winter season,” Schaffner says.
It’s not too late to take advantage of the new booster, Schaffner adds, and people should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The FDA has authorized three vaccine options for 2023-2024: an mRNA shot from Moderna and Pfizer, and a protein-based non-mRNA shot from Novavax.
Insurance plans should cover the updated booster dose, Schaffner says, and those without insurance should still be able to receive the vaccine for free, according to the CDC.
“We are in a good situation because for a long time we have not had a new variant that causes more severe disease or evades the protection of currently available vaccines,” says Schaffner.
How to protect yourself from HV.1
As winter and the holiday season approach, it is important to take steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 and prevent transmission to others, especially the most vulnerable. These include:
- Stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines
- Get tested if you have symptoms
- Isolate yourself if you test positive for COVID-19
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Improve ventilation or meet outdoors
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently
- Wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces