A COVID refresher as cases continue to rise

UAB Infectious Diseases experts continue to urge the public to get vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19.

New cases and new variants of COVID-19 continue to impact people across the world, and knowing how to protect yourself and others in the event of an exposure can be confusing.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Infectious Diseases experts are here to provide guidance and measures you can take to help limit the spread.

“We are clearly still in the middle of the omicron BA.5 surge, but the good news is that vaccination using the currently available vaccines seems to be preventing the upswing in deaths and hospitalizations that usually accompany a new variant surge,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in UAB’s Heersink School of Medicine. “It’s still not fun to get, and we don’t know what the risk of long COVID is going to be with this in vaccinated people. But it’s incredibly contagious, with many who’ve avoided COVID the whole pandemic finally falling prey to it.”

Marrazzo says BA.5 is the most infectious COVID variant that doctors have seen so far.

“The bar to prevent transmission of BA.5 is much higher,” Marrazzo said. “Evolving variants continue to adapt to vaccines and the protection that the vaccines have been so good at giving us.”

She adds that the vaccines currently available are still active against the symptoms of the BA.5 subvariant, but they are not protecting against infection or acquisition of the virus as much as she would like. Marrazzo says the classic symptoms she and her colleagues are seeing are cough, sore throat, fever and chills.

A new school year

As a new semester begins for K-12 schools — in the middle of a BA.5 surge, David Kimberlin, M.D., co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, is optimistic that school is not a major driver of community spread. However, he does encourage schools to be mask-friendly for those who choose to wear them.

“We need to recognize that, while schools are not the epicenter of community transmission, what happens in the community can impact schools,” Kimberlin said.

He adds that pediatric vaccination numbers are not encouraging as the school year begins.

Testing and long COVID

Marrazzo says, if you experience any symptoms of a respiratory infection, get tested. You may not be sick enough to take Paxlovid — an FDA-approved antiviral therapy for COVID-19 — but testing is essential to protecting families and close contacts.

“Have a very low threshold for testing,” Marrazzo said.

As for those who have had COVID and are still recovering — long-haulers — Marrazzo says the most common symptoms she and other colleagues are seeing are fatigue, brain fog, chronic cough, and loss of smell and taste.

Anyone who has previously had COVID can request to be a part of the RECOVER Initiative, of which UAB is a study site. The effort led by UAB is projected to receive $17 million from NIH to support up to four years of patient follow-up.