There has been a spike in COVID-19 cases in the United States over the last couple of weeks, primarily caused by the Omicron XBB.1.5. subvariant, also known as the Kraken variant.
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According to sources, there are over a million active COVID cases in the country. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted 60% of the country’s population to be affected by the latest mutated variant of the COVID-19 virus by the week of January 28.
The XBB 1.5. variant
The XBB 1.5. a variant of the COVID-19 virus arises from the globally dominant Omicron variant. Hence it is also known as the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant. The Omicron variant is said to be the strongest among all the globally dominant variants (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron variants) and first appeared in 2021.
The XBB.1.5 variant is currently the ‘most transmissible’ variant of the COVID-19 virus and is spreading rapidly across the United States. The XBB variant, from which XBB.1.5 arises, has a protein spike that beats the body’s immune defenses. As a result, this new mutation of the virus can potentially cause people who have previously been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get affected as well.
The true impact that the variant has remains unclear. We do not know if it is a fatal variant, how wary we must be and the symptoms are far from being clearly defined. Most infected people exhibit cold symptoms, such as a congested nose, coughing, fever, and headache.
An eminent professor from Imperial College London, Prof Wendy Barclay said that the XBB.1.5 has a mutation known as F486P, which restores this ability to bind to cells while continuing to evade immunity.
Experts believe that the XBB.1.5 variant emerged when someone got infected with two different Omicron types. They say that a bit of the genome from one virus perhaps got joined with another bit from a second virus, allowing them to merge and form a new variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said there was no indication so far that it was more serious or harmful than the previous variants of Omicron.
XBB.1.5 has unofficially been named the ‘Kraken’ variant by the online community.
XBB.1.5 Grips the United States
According to the CDC, 28% of COVID cases were caused by the XBB 1.5 variant in the first week of January 2023. COVID hospital admissions have also been increasing across the country and the government has restarted its free testing program.
The variant was first detected in the United States last year in the fall. It is currently most prevalent in the Northeastern part of the country. It has out-competed all other variants that were circulating the country during the winter.
Researchers say that it will be important to track the lineage of the COVID-19 virus regardless of whether or not the new variants cause big waves and surges in cases.
Specialized Test for the Variant in the Making
A Swiss pharma company named Roche is currently working on a specialized PCR (polymerase chain reactions) test to detect and track the spread of the XBB.1.5 variant as it is projected to reach other countries as well.
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