XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant dominating in US most transmissible Covid strain to date, warns WHO

A nurse administers a COVID-19 test outside the Salt Lake County Health Department. AP.

Geneva: The World Health Organization has raised concerns over the new sublineage of Omicron – XBB.1.5 – that has been spreading rapidly in the US. WHO said the Covid variant is now the “most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet.”

XBB.1.5 most transmissible subvariant: WHO

The WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said the global health officials are worried about how quickly the subvariant is spreading in the northeastern US.

The WHO said that XBB.1.5, however, does not appear to make people sicker.

“It is the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet,” Kerkhove said, adding, “The reason for this are the mutations that are within this subvariant of omicron allowing this virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily.”

She further said the WHO does not have any specific data yet on the severity of XBB.1.5, “but there’s no indication at the moment that it makes people sicker than previous versions of omicron.”

Kerkhove further said the WHO’s advisory group that tracks Covid variants is conducting a risk assessment on XBB.1.5 and is expected to publish it in the coming days.

“The more this virus circulates the more opportunities it will have to change. We do expect further waves of infection around the world but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work,” she added.

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Kerkhove also said the XBB.1.5 has been detected in 29 countries so far, but it could be even more widespread. Tracking Covid variants has become difficult as genomic sequencing declines across the world, she added.

XBB.1.5 cases doubling in US

In the US, the number of people infected with XBB.1.5 has been doubling about every two weeks, therefore, making it the most common variant circulating in the country.

How stringent is XBB.1.5 Covid variant?

Apart from the US, XBB subvariant has been accounting for over 75 per cent of new Covid cases in New England.

In New York, New Jersey and rest of America, it accounts for over 40 per cent of the overall Covid cases.

Though the severity of illness XBB variant causes is being studied, experts in infectious diseases say that the existing Covid-19 vaccines are an important toll to protect against severe illness.

The WHO asserted that hospitalisations have increased in the US in recent weeks, which is one of the indicators that scientists will be delving into in their risk assessment of XBB.1.5.

According to a study published in the medical journal ‘Cell’, XBB.1.5 may be able to evade previous immunity an individual may have acquired through vaccination and previous infection.

With inputs from agencies

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