The coronavirus latest strain XBB15, which is actually the new version of the Omicron variant, is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic's new sub variant. This strain, which first emerged in New York, has quickly engulfed the state and exploded into the New England region, and the United Kingdom.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the XBB15 had made up more than 40 percent of confirmed US Covid cases in the week up to December 31, 2022. This is up 20 percent from a week earlier.
It believes the XBB15 to be more transmissible than other variants. "But we don't know if it causes more severe disease. We're closely watching this variant to see how well our vaccines and treatments are working against it."
The Next Big One
Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, a US health researcher and Harvard-trained US epidemiologist, described this variant as "the next big one" because its pretty obvious now that it is. He said the CDC failed to warn for weeks that it is surging. "It's been over 1 percent for over four weeks but it didn't get reported until yesterday." Ding lashed out at CDC saying that it had royally screwed up because it failed to warn that cases of the super variant were surging.
"Hospitalizations already approaching last winter's crazy omicron levels. These numbers do not include Veterans Affairs hospitals, and it's missing several states. So it could be worse," the expert warned. "We aren't ringing the alarm bells of the new XBB15 wave enough. Waste water SARSCoV2 now at a higher level nationwide than even spring 2020 wave or the alpha wave of winter 2020-2021. Only second to initial omicron winter 2021-2022. But it's still climbing."
Feigl-Ding highlighted that New York has been suffering the largest COVID-19 hospitalization in almost a year. "And it's not coming down quickly like in recent waves Omicron waves. That's because XBB15 is not your typical Omicron, it's a special recombination mixture variant that is further mutated."
Worst Variant Ever
Dr Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at University of Minnesota, says the XBB15 is probably the worst variant that the world is facing right now. But Dr Barbara Mahon, director of CDC's Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, said there is no indication that the variant causes more severe illness than any other omicron virus.
"While overall COVID hospitalizations are rising around the country, areas such as the Northeast that have seen high levels of the new variant have not experienced a disproportionate increase in hospitalizations," she noted. "We are seeing hospitalizations have been notching up overall across the country. They don't appear to be notching up more in the areas that have more XBB15.
The new strain is believed to have come with mutations that may help it evade vaccines and boosters.