The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the XBB.1.5 variant, which is already known as Kraken strainis the most contagious of all those detected to date in the world and has expressed “concern” about its rapid spread.
Much information about this new variant is still unknown, but the health authorities of all countries are already working to try to control it. These are the keys to the new strain del virus SARS-CoV-2:
Where did the Kraken variant appear?
It is a variant of North American origin that was detected for the first time in New York and Connecticut last October. The new strain XBB.1.5. rapidly spread throughout the northeastern United States and is now estimated to be causing more than 40% of all infections of covid in the country and around 70% in the northeast region, the most affected.
The wave of infections is generating a high number of hospitalizations among people older than 70 years and sewage data shows that the US is currently mired in the second worst wave of infections of the entire pandemic.
What countries have detected it?
In addition to the United States, the Kraken variant has been detected in more than 25 countries, among them Spain. Other European countries that have found cases are France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and especially the United Kingdom, where it is also spreading rapidly.
But the WHO, which has warned of its rapid spread throughout Europe, understands that the Kraken variant is already circulating around the world because cases have also been reported in countries such as Australia, India or Singapore.
Is it more deadly than the previous ones?
There is no evidence that the XBB.1.5 variant causes more deaths than previous known covid strains and scientists agree that its effects are similar to other versions of the omicron strain, that is, mild in most cases: cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, fatigue…
The Johns Hopkins University virologist, Andrew Pekosz, explained on CNBC that the symptoms “are very similar” to those experienced so far by those infected with covid and that, even, “we are seeing that it is a bit more severe symptoms are less likely to appear”.
Why is it dangerous?
Although it is not more deadly than other strains, the WHO is concerned about its rapid spread, their resistance to vaccines and its ability to mutate. “We are concerned about its ability to grow, particularly in Europe and the US, where it has quickly replaced other circulating variants. Our concern is that it is so transmissible because the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it will have to mutate,” said Dr. Maria. Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for covid.
The Kraken variant contains 14 mutations of the Spike protein compared to previous versions of the virus, which, according to the researchers, has given it a increased resistance to antibodies. This means that both vaccinated people and those who have overcome the disease are not immunized against this strain and are susceptible to reinfection.
An experiment at Columbia University has revealed that Kraken has 63 times less likely to be neutralized by antibodies in the blood of infected or vaccinated persons than the omicron subvariant BA.2, and up to 49 times less likely to be neutralized than BA.4 and BA.5.
Are the current vaccines no longer useful?
Absolutely. Although vaccines do not prevent a reinfection or a first contagion, scientists agree that they do prevent more serious cases of the disease from developing. “They still provide a level of immunity that may not prevent you from getting infected, but can have a significant impact. about whether you get seriously ill and die or not”says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota.
“Right now, the most recent data we have shows that people who have the bivalent vaccine (it also protects for the omicron variants) are running a three times lower risk of dying than those who don’t,” Osterholm said on CNN.
Why is it called Kraken?
The name refers to the sea monster from Norse mythology and is the nickname some scientists have given to its technical name, XBB.1.5 It is informally called “to help people perform a follow-up of the variants soup in constant growth that we have. Now there are more than 650 sub-variants of omicron”, he pointed out in the Financial Times Ryan Gregory, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario (Canada).
Kraken is descended from the XBB variant, also known as Gryphon, a hybrid of two omicron descendants, BA.2.75 and BA.2.10.1. A key mutation, known as F486Pallows it to bypass antibodies and better adhere to human cells.
Why are travel restrictions imposed on China?
China suffers a great wave of infections and has just put an end to its strict ‘Covid-zero’ policy, which implies a lifting of restrictions on its citizens, which could further expand the spread of the coronavirus. Although the Beijing authorities are not talking about Kraken, but about the BA.5.2 and BF.7 strains of omicron, the XBB.1.5 variant could also be widespread.
In this sense, the European Commission has asked China for “transparency” about the covid situation in their territory. “China must transparently share data on its current situation. We can only tackle the pandemic if we work together at the EU and global level,” said European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.