The World Health Organization is concerned about a significant increase in cases of a new subtype of COVID-strain Omicron, which can cause an outbreak of infections.
About it how informs Politico, said Maria Van Kerkhove, spokeswoman for the WHO. Omicron XBB.1.5 is already registered in 29 states, but experts believe that it is present not only there. Over the past few weeks, the number of cases of a new subspecies has increased significantly in the United States. Maria Van Kerkhov says:
“We are concerned about the growth advantage of this strain, particularly in parts of Europe and the northeastern United States, where XBB.1.5 has rapidly replaced other circulating sub-variants.”
At the same time, WHO is not yet sure that the spread of the strain will lead to an increase in the number of hospitalizations and deaths. The organization does not yet know if the new subspecies is more serious than other circulating variants.
The US population is now much less affected by COVID-19 than it was a year ago. For comparison, last year the death rate was 7 times higher, and the number of hospitalizations was about 3 times higher. But still, in those regions where XBB.1.5 is spreading especially rapidly, the number of hospitalizations is growing and is already 40% of last year’s level.
The WHO spokesman says that XBB.1.5 cannot yet be blamed for the increase in hospitalizations in the northeast, as other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, could also be the cause. In the coming days, the organization will publish a severity analysis of the new strain it is currently working on. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, XBB.1.5 was found in 40.5% of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US in the last week of last year. CDC Director Dr. Barbara Mahon says:
“We predict that this will be the dominant option in the northeast region of the country, and it will increase in all regions.”
As writes Reuters, the emergence of options XBB.1.5 and XBB in many Asian countries caused the concern of experts. And they are spreading rapidly, as China is now experiencing a large-scale outbreak of infection. The XBB.1.5 variant differs from XBB in that it can better attach to cells, writes CNBC. Johns Hopkins virologist Andrew Pekosh explains:
“The virus has to bind to cells to be more efficient at getting in, and that could help the virus be a little more efficient at infecting people.”
John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, expects cases to peak in mid-January 2023. No specific symptoms of the new variant are known yet. At the same time, scientists said that XBB.1.5 has mutations that can allow the virus to not respond to booster doses of COVID vaccines and cause more breakthrough infections.