The Latest on COVID-19 with Infectious Diseases Experts

As news escalates around COVID-19 surges and the latest variants, we checked in with Dr. Larry Kociolek, Infectious Diseases Physician and Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Lurie Children’s, on commonly asked questions and what is most important for families to monitor.

What do we know about the BA.2.86, EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 subvariants? What are the symptoms?

Public health experts are reporting the increase in several new COVID-19 variants in the U.S. and other countries. So far, the tests we have for COVID-19 are able to detect these new variants. The symptoms of illnesses caused by these variants are similar to other COVID-19 variants and predominantly include upper respiratory symptoms, including sore throat, cough, and congestion. Some COVID-19 illnesses, especially in elderly and younger individuals with risk factors, are associated with severe illness, such as pneumonia.

Are COVID-19 symptoms similar from variant to variant, or how have they changed over time?

In general, the symptoms have been very similar from variant to variant, with some minor differences. Some variants have been associated with more frequent cold symptoms, and some have been associated with conjunctivitis (or pink eye). Over time, variants have been less likely to cause hospitalization and death as earlier variants, but this is more likely related to immunity from vaccines and prior illness rather than newer variants being weaker.

Are COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations spiking in Chicago?

Over the last few weeks, there has been an uptick in COVID-19 illnesses, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. This increase has not yet peaked. However, compared to earlier stages of the pandemic, healthcare visits and hospitalizations for COVID-19 are not very high. Although the COVID-19 Risk Level is currently low in Chicago, we are monitoring activity closely. COVID-19 activity is likely to increase when kids go back to school.

How often should children receive a COVID-19 booster now?

The recommendation for COVID-19 boosters is for everyone age 6 months and older to be up to date with the most current COVID-19 booster. A new COVID-19 booster designed to protect against the most recently dominant variants is expected to be available in the next month or so, and new recommendations for this booster will be provided by the CDC at that time.

Will boosters be effective for all the new variants?

The new COVID-19 booster that is anticipated to come out in the next few weeks is expected to be effective for the newest variants.

From an expert’s perspective, how should families be thinking about news of new variants in this new age of COVID-19?

Tracking variants and their impact on the community is extremely important for public health experts, healthcare providers, and scientists. However, tracking variants is less relevant for patients and families. Regardless of what types of variants are causing disease, patients and families should be familiar with their risk of COVID-19 exposure based on the amount of illness in the community. Patients and families should focus on basic healthy habits all of the time, such as staying home when sick, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying up to date with all vaccines, including COVID-19. When COVID-19 cases increase in the community, and especially if you or your loved ones are at high risk of COVID-19 complications, additional measures may be needed, such as wearing a mask in public and avoiding large gatherings.

Find more resources on COVID-19 here.

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