Latest COVID-19 subvariant XBB.1.5 most transmissible

Posted by DG, Date posted at January 16, 2023

Reports from AFP, Paris, France show that the latest information about the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 shows that this is the most transmissible COVID-19 subvariant above all of the past evolutions of the virus so far. This is the version of COVID-19 that is tallied as the one nimbly spreading at an accelerated rate across the United States. Experts have forecasted that as soon as the 13th of January, it will also become Europe’s dominant strain.  

Covid-19 omicron’s XBB 1.5 variant
Covid-19 omicron’s XBB 1.5 variant. Image source: https://www.livemint.com/

The latest details about XBB.1.5

This COVID-19 subvariant was first detected back in October of last year in the United States. It has quickly become the virus that captures 27% of the total infections as seen on reports provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) variant tracker. 

The World Health Organization revealed in a rapid risk assessment report on Wednesday, the 11th of January 2023, that there has been a total of 38 countries reported to have XBB.1.5 cases. From this figure, 82% have been reported in the United States, 8% are found in Britain and 2% are in Denmark.  

A modelling done by The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said Friday, the 13th of January 2023, that the results show XBB.1.5 has the potential to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in Europe within a span of one to two months. 

Even though XBB.1.5 currently accounts for just 2.5% of COVID-19 cases in Europe, the speed of infection is factored in and the surge of cases with this strain syncs up with their calculation of taking only a month or two for the virus to head on to be the dominant strain in the area. 

Grace Roberts, a virologist at Leeds University in Britain, reveals that XBB.1.5 is very similar to its predecessor XBB.1 but XBB.1.5 has had the critical mutation involving its spike protein — the key that allows the virus into the body’s cells — which places it as the current and most transmissible among all the COVID-19 variants in current history.  

Level of Contagiousness and Severity

The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove said this week that XBB.1.5 was the most transmissible form of Covid and clearly had a “growth advantage” over other forms of the virus.

Meanwhile, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports that the XBB.1.5 is showing that it is currently spreading 12.5% faster than other variants in the United States.

But Roberts told AFP “there are no data to suggest XBB.1.5 is any more harmful — in terms of severe disease and death — than previous variants”. This reflects the same report made by the WHO even though they are still assessing data on the subject did declare that so far, the XBB.1.5 did not carry any mutations that were known to increase severity.

You might want to read: China Currently Easing Covid Restrictions Locally

XBB.1.5 Antibodies resistance

Coming from reports and data analyzed by the WHO, they found that Omicron’s XBB variants, alongside BQ.1, are the most resistant to antibodies built up from vaccination and previous infections.

Cell — a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing research papers across a broad range of disciplines within the life sciences — featured a study last month which found that XBB.1 is 63 times less likely to be neutralised by existing antibodies than the BA.2 subvariant.

Among the other findings in said study, It is also 49 times more resistant than the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which are currently dominant in Britain and several other countries.

Roberts did share and pointed out that she has seen a recent preprint study, which has not been peer-reviewed, that suggests XBB.1.5 has a similar antibody resistance to XBB.1 but is more transmissible. But she highlights that it is “important to remember that antibodies are only one part of our immune systems,” she said.

Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in the United States said that new research suggested that bivalent Covid vaccines targeting the BA.5 subvariant were also more effective in neutralising antibody response to XBB.1.5 than previous jabs. This was due to “the spike protein of the BA.5 bivalent more closely resembles XBB.1.5 than the Wuhan ancestral spike,” Topol implied on his Substack this week.

Level of concern 

Overall the risk level remains low for the general population, as declared by the ECDC. They did emphasize that the risk is moderate to high for vulnerable people like the elderly or unvaccinated and they are calling for more testing and vaccination uptake. 

“I don’t think we need to take any drastic action at present,” Roberts said there was “no cause to panic” about XBB.1.5 adding that it remained important for countries to monitor the subvariant’s progress. 

So far, the WHO said that data reflects there has been a worldwide drop in the total number of COVID-19 cases by 9% last week compared to the previous seven days. The total number of deaths also fell by 12% following a surge over the holiday period. 

XBB.1.5 nicknamed, The ‘Kraken’ 

The WHO has also decided not to name any of the Omicron subvariants after letters of the Greek alphabet — since, as they said, most are similar in terms of transmissibility and severity.

But the popular culture that spans a whole universe of multimedia platforms revealed another picture. Seen on Twitter, users have been unofficially giving the various subvariants nicknames based on mythology, with XBB.1.5 dubbed the “Kraken”, Roberts revealed as she has become aware of the nickname.

She further added, “I personally think this may cause unnecessary concern — especially naming viruses after mythical giant sea creatures!” 

Hopefully, this isn’t another here-we-go-again scenario when it comes to the COVID-19 virus. It is still early in the battle when it comes to truly seeing the nature of XBB.1.5. I do wonder when China will also provide the real numbers on how COVID-19 is on their side of the world. After all, the WHO can only mirror data they are receiving officially on their end. Just stay safe, folks! Let us know if the comment section below if you also share the same sentiments. Looking forward to hearing from you, guys soon. Thanks!

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