How To Stay Healthy with COVID’s New FliRT Variants Circulating.

How To Stay Healthy with COVID’s New FliRT Variants Circulating.

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When it comes to COVID-19, change is nothing new—variant strains of the virus continue to evolve. The latest is KP.2, one of the FLiRT variants of the Omicron strain of the virus. They’re getting attention thanks in part to their snappy name, a complicated acronym. 

While FLiRT variants are now the dominant forms of COVID in the U.S., they don’t appear to be introducing new symptoms or causing more serious illness. But as data on KP.2 and other FLiRT variants are analyzed, there is some concern that prior immunity may not protect us quite as well as we’ve seen in other variants.

FLiRT variants may lead to more upper respiratory tract infections, though available data suggest they are unlikely to cause a significant increase in hospitalizations or deaths. I recently discussed this with DC News Now.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a less than 1% increase in positive tests nationally, while emergency department visits are up about 5%. 

COVID-19 is constantly evolving, and our health systems and bodies are adapting in response. That’s why COVID isn’t making people as sick as it once did. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t take precautions.

So, who should be concerned about the FLiRT variants, and what can we do to stay healthy?

Related reading: Research: MedStar Health COVID Early Warning System Helped Patients Avoid ICU.

Get vaccinated if you are at high risk.

All of us—especially older people and those with conditions that put them at high risk for respiratory infections—should stay up to date on our vaccinations.

The reason FLiRT variants are dominant now is because they are transmitted more easily than those that came before. In our clinics, we’ve seen that patients have some protection against these new variants because of past COVID infections and vaccinations. 

As of early May, only about 25% of all people and 30% of people over age 65 in the U.S. had received the latest shot. If you’re over age 65 or immunocompromised, talk with your doctor about whether the COVID-19 vaccination is right for you.


What to do if you catch a FLiRT variant.

Most people who get one of the new FLiRT variants of COVID experience symptoms similar to an upper respiratory tract infection. These include:

  • Chills
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

Earlier this year, the CDC issued new guidance about how to stop the spread of COVID. In addition to staying up to date on vaccines, practicing good hygiene, and spending time in clean air spaces. Home test kits issued for previous variants will work to detect FLiRT.

The CDC recommends that if you contract COVID you should stay home and avoid contact with others so you don’t pass along the virus. The CDC recommends you wait 24 hours after your fever is gone before resuming normal activities. Consider wearing a mask, washing your hands more often, and keeping your distance from other people in the first five days after you return to your normal activities. 

Older people and those who are immunocompromised should consider antiviral treatment if they contract COVID. These medications work best if given in the first five days of infection, so be sure to speak with your doctor right away. 

Related reading: Managing Breathing Difficulties Associated With Long-COVID.

Fast response to variants is the new normal.

Much like we monitor and respond to seasonal influenza, researchers will track COVID and scientists will develop new vaccines as necessary to contain it. The FLiRT variants will inform the newest vaccine when it is released.

Common respiratory illnesses, such as influenza and RSV, tend to have predictable seasonal patterns that we’ve uncovered after decades of study. While COVID may have similar trends, it’s still too soon to know. 

If you are in a high-risk group, talk with your doctor about getting the latest vaccine. Older adults and those who are immunocompromised are encouraged to get a second booster shot. If you’re not at high risk, practice good hygiene and work to limit the spread of COVID, just like you would with other respiratory illnesses.

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