It has been three years into the corona pandemic, but coronavirus has continued to astound virologists with its rapid evolution. In recent weeks, the United States has seen a rapid spread of a new version known as XBB.1.5. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that it accounted for 27.6% of cases nationwide and 72.0% of new cases in the Northeast.
What is XBB.1.5?
The prefix “X” in XBB.1.5 indicates a pedigree resulting from genetic recombination between two or more subvariants in the naming scheme for SARS-CoV-2 lineages.
Two omicron subvariants, BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75, naturally co-infected a human host to produce the XBB lineage. Public health authorities first discovered it in India in the summer of 2022. XBB.1.5 is the immediate descendant, or more precisely, the fifth grandchild of the original XBB subvariant. This new variant possesses a strong variety of mutations that aid in its ability to escape immune systems and enhance cell invasion.
Difference between XBB.1.5 and Omicron
Since the first omicron wave in November 2021, numerous omicron subvariants of concern have emerged on the global pandemic landscape. XBB.1.5 is just one of them. XBB.1.5 is a mosaic subvariant with two omicron subvariant lineages as its ancestors, in contrast to other descendants of the original omicron variant (known as B.1.1.529).
The most genetically diverse and contagious SARS-CoV-2 omicron subvariant is XBB.1.5.
XBB.1.5 is undoubtedly the most genetically diverse and transmissible SARS-CoV-2 omicron subvariant yet. The mechanism behind the increased transmissibility of XBB.1.5 still needs to be discovered. However, the F486P mutation allows the virus to latch effectively onto ACE2 receptors in the body.
What are Symptoms of XBB.1.5?
No new COVID-19 symptoms have been associated with XBB.1.5. The symptoms are similar to those caused by earlier omicron variants. These symptoms can range from cold to shortness of breath and sometimes low oxygen levels requiring emergency medical attention.
COVID-19 has also been associated with:
- fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing
- muscle aches, fatigue, loss of taste or smell
- headaches, sore throat, runny nose
- nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
It’s currently too early for scientists and experts to make definite statements about whether XBB.1.5 is more likely to cause severe diseases. High-risk individuals should minimize their outdoor activities and wear high-quality face masks. Getting infected with XBB.1.5 or any other variant will put you at risk of developing long COVID.
Should People Worry about XBB.1.5?
It varies from person to person. Many individuals need more clarification about catching Covid-19. They might be young and healthy, making it unlikely that the coronavirus will cause them to fall very ill. Perhaps they have recently recovered from infection and have been immune to the serious disease for a few months. Or they may consider the drawbacks of maintaining measures to be important. Given that XBB.1.5 is not expected to be the last variety of concerns we see and doesn’t produce more severe sickness, it is not improper for people to carry on with their pre-pandemic habits.
On the other hand, many individuals are concerned about developing serious Covid-19 illness. A person’s risk of developing a serious disease from Covid-19 should be discussed with their doctor if they are older or have underlying medical issues. They should take further steps to prevent infection while this highly transmissible variant is in circulation if they are still at high risk even after receiving the bivalent booster. This involves asking for rapid tests from others before engaging in social interaction and wearing an excellent N95 mask or an equivalent when in overcrowded indoor and outdoor environments.
Although we don’t yet have exact figures, we can assume that someone who has already contracted an earlier omicron variation is susceptible to reinfection with XBB.1.5 based on what we know about the XBB variants. This is due to two factors: The XBB.1.5 variety is more immune-evasive, and an individual’s immunological response gradually declines after infection.
Do Vaccines and Treatments Work against XBB.1.5?
Although there isn’t much information available on XBB.1.5 yet, the study of its related XBB gives some clues. According to recent studies, persons who have received the latest bivalent booster are more protected against XBB than those who have not, even though it is more immune-evasive than earlier virus strains. According to the CDC, only 15% of Americans aged five and older have received a bivalent booster, which indicates that many Americans are currently less protected than they may be from the new strain.
Another question is whether monoclonal antibody therapies work against XBB.1.5. Federal health experts stated that some monoclonal antibody treatments do not effectively combat more recent variants in the fall of 2022, which is particularly alarming for immunocompromised individuals who do not respond well to vaccinations. The most recent Cell study discovered that these treatments mainly failed to treat XBB, which raises the possibility that the same may be true for XBB.1.5.
How to Prevent XBB.1.5?
One of the best methods to prevent infection is to get vaccinated (including keeping up with booster shots), but you should be aware that infections can still spread through breakthroughs. A mask, avoiding crowded areas, and sanitizing high-touch surfaces are other effective COVID-19 defences.
As long as they are adequately filtered, masks continue to be an effective tool for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 because they prevent inhalation of the airborne particles that cause the virus. Health experts still advise people to choose masks with a 95% filtration efficiency, such as N95 and KN95. Although there are many internet stores where you can get these masks, you should be wary of fake ones because they provide less protection.