Home / News / World /  How dangerous is Covid variant XBB.1.5? Here’s what we know so far

Arriving passengers can now volunteer for COVID-19 exams at seven airports in the United State, thanks to the addition of Los Angeles and Seattle. More than half of the 500 flights now covered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) programme originate from China and its surrounding regions, with flights from at least 30 other nations.

XBB.1.5, a distinct variation that makes up 41% of cases in the US, is the most prevalent mutation in the nation. The number of COVID-19's XBB.1.5 variant instances in India increased to seven as a result of fresh cases being discovered in Chhattisgarh and Telangana. One case each in Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan were among the seven cases, which included three in Gujarat.

The development of the new subvariant, according to virologists, does not signal a fresh pandemic danger. As the virus spreads, more variations are to be anticipated. Although it is expected that XBB.1.5 will spread worldwide, it is not yet known if this will result in a separate wave of infections. Current vaccines continue to offer protection against serious symptoms, hospitalisation and death.

What is the XBB.1.5 subvariant?

The most contagious Omicron sub-variant yet, according to senior epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization (WHO), is XBB.1.5. Due to the mutations it carries, it spreads quickly and replicates effectively when attached to cells. 

XBB and XBB.1.5 were thought to be responsible for 44.1% of COVID-19 cases in the US during the week of December 31 compared to 25.9% the week before. The WHO reported that it has also been found in 28 other nations worldwide. "Our concern is how transmissible it is," Van Kerkhove earlier said.

XBB.1.5 is yet another variant of Omicron, the COVID-19-causing virus's most contagious and most prevalent variety. It is a recombinant of two additional Omicron sub-variants and is a branch of XBB, which was initially discovered in October.

How dangerous is XBB.1.5?

There are currently no statistics, according to the WHO, on severity or a clinical picture of its impact. It stated that although there was no sign that the severity had changed, the enhanced transmissibility was still a cause for concern. Van Kerkhove claimed that, because so many other respiratory viruses were also in circulation, the WHO was unable to link the rise in hospitalisations in the northeastern United States to the variation.

"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 said.

There is no reason to believe that XBB.1.5 should be treated with any greater caution than other COVID-19 mutant variants that appear and disappear, according to Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.

How proactive is WHO about it?

With the aid of laboratory research and actual world data, the WHO stated that it was actively monitoring any potential changes in the severity of the subvariant. The subvariant is the subject of a risk evaluation by the WHO. 

South African scientist Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a member of the evaluation group, described the situation as "complex" particularly in light of the global context of the spike in cases in China following the country's decision to abandon its zero-COVID policy in December.

(With Reuters inputs)

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