What is the new COVID-19 variant XBB1.5, and should we be concerned?
A new COVID-19 subvariant is spreading across the United States and parts of Europe. Nicknamed the “Kraken variant”, the new strain appears to be more contagious than the previous strains. However, it has been noted the new variant does not affect people’s immune systems adversely thus far. The WHO said on January 4, 2023, that the latest Omicron sublineage XBB1.5 is the “most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet”, and the variant has been detected in at least 29 countries so far. WHO also cautioned the public about the spread of the new variant due to its highly transmissible nature.
This Pacific Prime article will take a closer look at the latest COVID-19 variant and how concerned we should be. If you want more health articles, we’ve outlined the 14 most common diseases while traveling abroad.
What is the Omicron subvariant XBB1.5, and why is it more transmissible?
The XBB1.5 variant allows the virus to adhere to human cells and replicate easily. The mutation in the building blocks within XBB1.5 increases the capability of the virus to latch on tighter to human cells and attack them. Experts also pointed out that the mutation helps the virus evade antibodies, meaning that the proteins from vaccination or previous infection could be ineffective in fighting off the new variant.
What are the symptoms of XBB1.5?
Experts have suggested that the symptoms would be similar to that of other Omicron variants. However, the WHO has no concrete data yet on the severity of XBB1.5. Those infected with the new variant can expect symptoms such as:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Aches throughout the body
- Shortness of breath
Note that the new variant can be detected by standard testing kits such as the Rapid Antigen Test.
Is the COVID-19 vaccination effective against XBB1.5?
Some experts have suggested that the increased level of antibodies in the blood and respiratory tract brought by vaccines can tackle XBB1.5 effectively, leading to milder symptoms even if infected. However, one reason why XBB1.5 is attracting attention is that it is exhibiting signs of immunity escape and may re-infect people. It is still unknown how effective the new Omicron boosters are against the new strain.
Why is the new variant named ‘Kraken’?
The name ‘Kraken’ was suggested by an evolutionary professor on Twitter to match the strength of the new strain with a mythological sea monster. The COVID-19 variants are currently being named by an expert group convened by the WHO. The group identifies the so-called variants of concern that have potential global public health significance using the Greek alphabet. However, the last Greek-named variant, Omicron, emerged more than a year ago and left no room for the emergence of other, significantly different strains.
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