What is XBB.1.5? A new and devastating Covid-19 surge could be on its way, CDC data shows

What is XBB.1.5? A new and devastating Covid-19 surge could be on its way, CDC data shows
(Representative picture, Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a new Covid-19 variant is spreading across the US. According to their data, the strain, called XBB.1.5, is responsible for 41% of Covid cases that have been officially confirmed nationwide. The CDC found that the mutation has significantly increased during the past week, rising from only 21% seven days earlier.

CDC data showed that the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants, which predominated cases in the fall, have been replaced by this strain, which was first detected in mid-November, 2022. According to the CDC, cases of XBB.1.5, related to the XBB strain, have primarily been documented in the northeastern US. In New York through Maine, more than 70% of Covid cases are currently XBB.1.5. Experts have cautioned that the stronger variant could be problematic during the hectic holiday season.

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So what is this new XBB.1.5 variant? 

Dr Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told Reuters in a recent interview, "Ironically, probably the worst variant that the world is facing right now is actually XBB.” Johns Hopkins University virologist, Andrew Pekosz, told CNBC that the new XBB.1.5 differed from other members of its family because of an extra mutation that improves its ability to connect to cells.

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“The virus needs to bind tightly to cells to be more efficient at getting in and that could help the virus be a little bit more efficient at infecting people,” Pekosz reportedly said. Yunlong Richard Cao, a researcher and assistant professor at Peking University, shared data on Twitter that showed that XBB.1.5 was more effective at binding to cells through a crucial receptor than XBB.1, which was a variant that was highly immune evasive. It also evades protective antibodies as well.

The resilience of the XBB subvariants to antibodies from infection and immunization has been described as "alarming" by several specialists at this point. They have emphasized that the majority of XBB subvariants, which were likewise very immune evasive, were better at avoiding protection from omicron boosters than the BQ subvariants. According to the New York Post, 2,530 Americans lost their lives to the virus in the final week of 2022, as opposed to 17,048 during the same time period in 2021.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical advisor, stated in November 2022 that the XBB subvariants greatly diminish the anti-infection protection that boosters offer. Still, the number of hospitalizations due to Covid-19 was npt expected to reach the level witnessed last time. In a briefing in December 2022, he stated that he was inspired by the case study of Singapore, which experienced a significant spike in XBB variant infections but did not witness an increase in the number of hospitalizations at the same rate. Meanwhile, according to the WHO, the new XBB. 1.5 strain has been found in at least 70 countries. 

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