(CNN) — Scientists at the World Health Organization (WHO) are concerned about the growth advantage of the new omicron variant XBB.1.5, which is rapidly replacing other forms of the virus that causes Covid-19 and which it has already been detected in at least 29 countries.
XBB.1.5 was detected in New York and Connecticut at the end of October and is expected to lead to a new increase in covid-19 cases in the United States, CNN reported. The subvariant has the potential to escape the protections of vaccines and past infections. It is also resistant to all current antibody treatments, including Evusheld.
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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that XBB.1.5 caused about 41% of new infections in the US during the last week of December .
The agency’s scientists said they are conducting a risk assessment of the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which spreads rapidly, and plan to publish those findings in the coming days.
“It is the most transmissible subvariant of omicron to date,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and WHO technical lead for covid-19, at a press conference on Wednesday.
Covid-19 tests in New York, United States, on December 9, 2022. (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
“We are concerned about its growth advantage,” he added, noting that it appears to come from mutations in its genome.
“We expect more waves of infections around the world, although that doesn’t have to translate into more waves of death because our countermeasures are still working,” Van Kerkhove said.
“We still don’t have data on the severity or the clinical picture (it causes), but we also don’t have an indication that the severity has changed with XBB.1.5. It’s something we’re watching very closely,” Van Kerkhove said. He noted that they were analyzing real-world data on hospitalization rates and data from laboratory experiments to assess their severity.
He encouraged countries to continue collecting and submitting high-quality data on their covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
“We have had a 15% increase in deaths in the last month, and again, we know that is an underestimate due to delays in reporting,” he said.
“It is really critical that surveillance continues so that we can track known variants and better assess what is happening globally,” he added.
How is the new variant of the covid XBB.1.5 and why is it spreading rapidly
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that as the world enters the fourth year of the pandemic, it is in a much better place thanks to advances in treatments, tests and vaccines.
He said many countries still lack access to new, life-saving antivirals like Paxlovid. On the subject, he noted that the WHO has just authorized an Indian manufacturer to make the world’s first generic version of the drug, which should increase access in low- and middle-income countries.
He also said that he hopes that 2023 will be the year that the public health emergency declared by the WHO for covid-19 can officially end.
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