With a highly contagious coronaviruses variant expected to hit Iowa in the coming weeks, infectious disease specialists are urging Iowans to get the bivalent COVID-19 booster shot as soon as possible.

Only a few of them have yet.

The new version of omicron, called XBB. 1.5, has become the most transmissible version of the virus yet and has emerged in the United States with a force.

The subvariant rose from less than 1% of total infections nationwide to 40% in just one month.

8% of the estimated infections are reported by the Midwest region. It's only a matter of weeks before Iowa sees a spike in new illnesses due to the fact that the virus appears to be five times more contagious than the earlier version.

Experts say that everyone is at risk for the disease. Most Americans who have had the coronaviruses will likely catch it again, according to infectious disease specialists.

Karen Brust is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

It doesn't appear that the virus causes more severe illness in people who are not immune, but those who are, according to Brust.

She said that they are not at the advantage of having good immunity after a vaccine. They need to take other precautions against getting sick.

Severe disease and death can be prevented with coronaviruses vaccines and boosters.

In light of the new subvariant making its way into Iowa, local public health officials say it's important that Iowans get the bivalent booster, a shot approved by federal officials last year that offers protection against both the omicron strains currently circulating.

If you haven't already, we want you to get your bivalent boosters.

Bivalent boosters offer protection against new variant, other omicron versions of coronavirus

State and local public health officials continue to push Iowans to be up-to-date on their coronaviruses vaccinations but this new variant has renewed their emphasis on the newest bivalent booster dose

It's important to have that shot in order to reduce the risk of infecting others.

The best way to protect yourself from serious illness, hospitalization and death is to be up to date on your vaccine regimen.

The current vaccine rates in Iowa aren't enough to stop the spread of the new variant.

Experts say that people who haven't had Covid will catch XBB. 1.5.

According to the most recent data from state public health officials, 60 percent of the state's population was fully protected against COVID-19 by the end of the year. In Iowa, less than 1 in 6 people have received a bivalent booster dose.

"For whatever reason, the bivalent booster didn't have the same effect that we had hoped for," Brust said. I was hoping that the bivalent booster would be seen in the same way a seasonal flu booster is seen. I think about boosting myself with a COVID booster every time I go into a respiratory season.

The Polk County public health officials continue to communicate the importance of the vaccine. The Polk County Health Department collaborated with the Christ Apostolic Temple to create a Spanish-language advertisement that encourages people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"With the emergence of new COVID-19 variant of concern, we will continue to urge the community to get vaccine and fully boosted," said the county agency's spokesman.

The Polk County Health Department has a website where people can sign up for a vaccine.

Polk County sees drop in testing kit service

Polk County Health Department and other public health agencies continue to manage COVID-19 cases in accordance with recommendations from the state public health department, according to VanGundy.

Testing is important to the agency. The number of people using the Polk County Health Department's free COVID-19 test kits has plummeted in the last year.

The Polk County Health Department sent out 2,642 test kits in December of 2021. The agency sent 104 test kits by the end of the year.

There are four free tests from the federal government that can be sent directly to each household.

VanGundy said officials encourage people to test for COVID-19 if they have symptoms or if they are immunocompromised.

Iowa COVID-19 cases are holding steady with the upcoming XBB. 1.5 variant.

What are the symptoms of XBB.1.5?

The same symptoms as an earlier version of the coronaviruses can be found in an XBB. 1.5 infections. It can take between 2 and 14 days for symptoms to show after exposure.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are listed by the CDC.

  • There is a cough.

  • There is fatigue.

  • Difficult breathing is a symptom of shortness of breath.

  • There are body pains or headaches.

  • Is it a cold or a flu?

  • Losing taste or smell is a new thing.

  • The throat has been ripped open.

  • It could be congestion or a nose that isn't straight.

  • Dehydration or nausea.

  • There is a disease called diarrhea.

How to avoid an infection

The same strategies are recommended by public health experts and health care providers. Getting vaccinations is the first thing, Brust said. The primary coronaviruses vaccine series and boosters can be purchased at most drugstores.

People should wear masks to protect them from infections in crowded indoor spaces. When they are sick, they should stay home and wash their hands.

Brust said it's important for people to be aware of current transmission levels in their community and other metrics that show the current spread of the virus.

She said that it's important to take a step back and think about the risk of infections and the risk for people with compromised immune systems. Considering the number of people at an event is part of that.

"I use all of those things to determine the way I interact with the outside world, so that's usually what I tell people to do," Brust said.

Buy N95 and KN95 masks online.

Recommendations after a COVID-19 exposure

People should be tested at least five days after the last exposure.

Federal health officials say people who are suspected of having an infectious disease should not be in one another's company. If you test negative, you don't have to be isolated, but you should wear a mask and take other precautions for 10 days.

The CDC says that people who test positive should stay at home for at least five days. After five days, isolation can be ended, but those who have no symptoms should remain isolated and wear a mask for 10 days. If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they are contagious.

Michaela Ramm works for the Register. Michaela Ramm can be reached at mramm@registermedia.com or on her verified account on the social networking site.

The article was originally published on the Des Moines Register.