Just as we have all started to come to terms with the inherent risks linked to the Omicron sub-variant, BF.7 of SARS-CoV-2, that is driving the surge of COVID-19 cases in China, we are now faced with a new super-variant XBB.1.5. This highly contagious Omicron offshoot, nicknamed ‘Kraken’ is multiplying at record speed, raising concerns about increased infections and hospitalizations.
The new sub-variant XBB.1.5, with high transmissibility, is also said to have the potential to become a globally dominant variant in the next few months, possibly leading to another wave of COVID-19 infections.
The ‘Kraken’ XBB.1.5 was first detected in October 2022, and is now spreading faster in the US. In India, already three cases of this mutation were reported in Telangana, including one each in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
What is ‘Kraken’ XBB.1.5 COVID variant?
The XBB.1.5 is a descendant of sub-variant XBB, a recombinant variant (a fusion of) two sub-lineages of Omicron BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 variants. The XBB.1.5 was nicknamed Kraken, an aggressive mythical sea creature because of its aggressive transmissibility.
The Kraken XBB.1.5 was first noticed in the Northeastern US. According to experts, the transmissibility of the Kraken variant is about 1.6 times more compared to the BA.2 variant that triggered the third wave in India.
In addition, the ‘Kraken’ XBB.1.5 also has one of the highest rates of immune evasion of any Omicron variant. Due to its highly immunity-evasive nature, scientists and geneticists believe that the worldwide spread of the XBB.1.5 super variant is inevitable.
The Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution by World Health Organization (WHO) also says the, “rapidly increasing proportion of XBB.1.5 in the US and other countries” is of urgent concern.
What are the Symptoms of XBB.1.5 COVID variant?
As of now, it does not seem that XBB.1.5 is causing different symptoms from other more recent strains of COVID-19, which include:
If any of the above symptoms occur, you should get tested for COVID-19 to undergo proper treatment and isolate yourself from others to prevent cluster transmission
How severe is the ‘Kraken’ Variant? Will it lead to hospitalisations and deaths?
As with any newly emerging variant, not much is clear, and perceptions can quickly change. However, the good news is that Kraken XBB 1.5 does not seem more severe than the BA.5 variant. Therefore, it may not cause a higher proportion of infections that can turn serious or lead to long COVID.
But experts agree that there is little doubt that the XBB.1.5 sub-variant is significantly more contagious than its predecessors and is likely to fuel the latest COVID-19 wave.
Do Vaccines Work Against XBB.1.5?
Experts opine that vaccines remain the best protection against XBB.1.5. Therefore, high vaccination uptake is vital in minimizing the impact of COVID-19 as a public health problem. In addition, for those who have already taken the shot, taking booster doses is important, especially for the vulnerable and those over 50 years and above.
What Precautions Can Be Taken?
Precautions like maintaining physical distance, wearing a mask, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated places, washing hands or using hand sanitizer regularly and getting vaccinated or a booster dose may help in preventing the disease and help mitigate the spread.
In addition, self-quarantine and wearing a mask if unwell are also very important to check the spread of this variant.
The Omicron sub-variant, XBB.1.5, is causing concerns after its rapid spread in the US and other countries. The new variant, Kraken was found in few parts of India too. In order to prevent its spread from causing another wave, we have to take all the available precautions, like masking up, avoiding crowds, maintaining social distance, practising respiratory hygiene and taking up the COVID-19 vaccine doses provided by the government. If you have already taken 2 doses, take your booster dose now.