Scientists are monitoring a sub-variant of the omicron strain that is already reported to be in at least 40 countries.
The World Health Organization claims the BA.2 -- or "stealth omicron variant" as its been referred to -- is not a "variant of concern" that will worsen COVID-19 transmission, illness severity of efficacy of vaccines, but have detected the subvariant's presence in at least 40 countries, ABC News reports.
The subvariant has also been confirmed to be in several U.S. states, with multiple cases reported in Washington State on Monday (January 24).
"It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it's to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on," said Dr. Meera Chand, the COVID-19 incident director at the UK Health Security Agency, in prepared remarks via ABC News. "So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited."
Last week, World Health Organization member Vipin M. Vashishtha tweeted about the difficulty in identifying the BA. 2 subvariant due to a lack of genetic characteristics used to initially identify the omicron variant.
Omicron, known as B.1.1.529, has three subvariants: BA. 1, BA. 2, and BA. 3, with BA. 1 responsible for more than 99% of the cases amid the variant's surge and now BA.2 on the rise, having been reported in the United Kingdtom and Scandinavia.
The original BA.1 is considered to be very contagious, however, researchers initially reported the BA.2 could be even more contagious.
"BA.2 shares 32 mutations w/ BA.1, but it also has 28 unique mutations," Vashishtha tweeted. "Some diff in S1. E is the same, N & M are diff in 1 mutation between the two variants. And...quite a difference when we go to OFT1ab."
In Denmark, the BA.2 has already reportedly accounted for half of all omicron cases, according to health care officials, but its yet to be known whether it's as deadly as the original variant.
The country has yet to see a difference in the rate of hospitalizations or deaths since the "stealth" omicron cases were reported.
“Initial analysis shows no differences in hospitalizations for BA.2 compared to BA.1,” according to Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut, a government-run infectious disease research center via Boston 25 News.