COVID-19 Variation XBB.1.5: What you need to know

One A new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading in the US, raising fears of a potential wave of infections and re-infection to start the new year.

The variant, known as XBB.1.5, is a descendant of Omicron and a close relative of the XBB variant, which spread to Singapore and India this past fall. A December study in the magazine Cell proved that XBB is better at evading immune defenses obtained from vaccination and previous infection, compared with other variants. This increases the risk of reinfection, a group of the World Health Organization warning in October—although at the time the team said that XBB did not appear to cause significantly more severe disease than previous strains.

Along with its ability to overcome proficient immune barriers, XBB.1.5 appears to be highly transmissible thanks to several key mutations discovered as the virus evolves. These adjustments are raising concerns about an increase in cases this winter—particularly due to low rates of enhanced uptake and easing of disease mitigation measures.

While there is little research on XBB.1.5 at this point, here’s what we know so far.

How popular is XBB.1.5 in the US?

For the week ending December 31, XBB.1.5 accounted for 40.5% of newly sequenced COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It currently causes about 75% of new cases in the Northeast, which is usually the focal point for the rest of the country.

Nationally representative diagnostic data from Walgreens, a provider of COVID-19 testing services across the US, shows almost 40% of tests are now coming back positive, although it is impossible to say how many of those infections were caused by XBB.1.5. Hospitalization is also starting to increase nationwideaccording to CDC data.

Do vaccines and treatments work for XBB.1.5?

Although there is not much data on XBB.1.5 yet, research on its relative XBB provides some clues. recent research published inside New England Journal of Medicine (and based on a small number of people) suggests that although XBB is more immune than previous versions of the virus, people who have received the virus divalent booster update are better protected against it than those who are not. Only 15% of people in the United States 5 years of age and older receive two boosters of chemotherapy, According to CDCwhich means that many people are currently not fully protected against the new variant.

Whether monoclonal antibody treatments are effective for XBB.1.5 is another concern. In the fall of 2022, federal health officials admit that some monoclonal antibody therapies do not work well against newer variants, which is particularly relevant for immunocompromised individuals who do not respond well to vaccines. Recently Cell research shows that these therapies are largely ineffective for XBB, which suggests the same may be true for XBB.1.5.

Will XBB.1.5 lead to a new wave of persistent COVID cases?

Prolonged COVID, the name for the long-lasting and often debilitating symptoms following a case of COVID-19, can affect anyone infected with SARS-CoV-2, including those who have been vaccinated and was initially mildly ill. Some suggested data that people infected with prior Omicron variants are less likely to develop long-term COVID than those with Delta. But if XBB.1.5 spreads widely, even a small percentage of people develop long-term complications could mean a lot of new lingering COVID cases.

Avoiding infection is the best way to stay healthy in both the short and long term. To do that, follow all the usual advice: stay up to date on vaccines and boosters, wear a mask High quality masks in indoor public areasmeet others outdoors or in well-ventilated areas where possible, and consider avoiding group gatherings if infection rates are high in your area.

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Write letter for Jamie Ducharme at [email protected].


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