DES MOINES, Iowa — New coronavirus variants continue to pop up every week, but one of the newest is specifically making its mark across the Midwest.
That growing strain is BA.4.6, a subvariant of omicron. The CDC is projecting the variant to grow primarily in four states across the Midwest — Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, has spent the majority of his career researching coronavirus.
"My laboratory has worked on coronaviruses for 40 years, so when the pandemic began, we were well situated to think about how coronaviruses work and to participate in some of the development of ways to study coronaviruses," Perlman said.
He believes that the subvariant BA.4.6 is a derivative of BA.4, another subvariant of the omicron variant.
"So far, all we know is that in some parts of the U.S., including Iowa, it seems to be increasing a little more than other variants in taking over populations," Perlman said.
He says the variant is not targeting the region specifically — it just happens to be here.
"I don't think it's particularly anything about the Midwest," he said. "It just, it happened to either arise here or be imported here from somewhere else. And the whole Midwest, not just Iowa, of course, the other states as well."
In a time where everyone wants to put COVID-19 in the past, Perlman wants to remind people these new variants are proof that the virus is still present.
"This is a continuation of the same pandemic. The virus is still evading our antibody response from previous infections and from vaccinations," he said. "And we want as much as possible, we need to still be cautious, because the virus is still contagious."
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health's latest numbers from Aug. 3, there were 7,313 positive tests since and 35 deaths reported since July 27.
The BA.4.6 symptoms have been compared to those of other omicron variants, but researchers are keeping an eye on the variant's transmission rates moving forward.