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Everything you need to know about the new Omicron strain XBB.1.5 named ‘Kraken’

Covid-19 infections are on the rise once again across the US as a new highly transmissible subvariant of Omicron quickly becomes the dominant strain.

Interview with biologist who coined mythological names

A new version of the Omicron strain, XBB.1.5, is quickly becoming the dominant cause of covid-19 in the United States. The highly transmissible subvariant has been dubbed ‘Kraken’ as an informal way of distinguishing it from the alphabet soup of Omicron variants currently causing covid-19 infections.

The strain is a descendant of the first fast-spreading recombinant variant XBB that was formed from two different BA.2 sublineages. The original version was responsible for a wave of infections in Singapore has picked up two critical mutations to become XBB.1.5. Despite its ability to spread faster there isn’t any evidence it causes more serious illness.

Why is the XBB.1.5 strain more transmissible?

The XBB.1.5, or informally known as the ‘Kraken’ covid-19 strain, hasn’t received a Greek letter of the alphabet as it hasn’t presented evidence that it is a “variant of concern” in its own right as the original Omicron was. Despite it acquiring two mutations that allow it to spread faster, “the most transmissible” strain yet according to Dr Tedros, there is no evidence that it causes more serious illness than the original Omicron strain.

One of the mutations helps it more effectively escape the body’s immune system much like its forebearer XBB. But more importantly it picked up the ability to better attach itself to the receptors on cells allowing it to infect them more effectively. Health authorities are recommending that people have their booster shots up to date to avoid more serious illness and hospitalization.

Where is the new Omicron strain XBB.1.5 a.k.a. ‘Kraken’?

Currently, only variants of Omicron are responsible for new infections of covid-19 in the US according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The new Omicron strain XBB.1.5 was first detected in New York this past fall and has been rapidly outcompeting a soup of new Omicron variants that have arisen in recent months.

It now represents nearly 30 percent of new infections nationwide rising from just one percent at the beginning of December. However, it is estimated that it represents over 70 percent of infections in the Northeast as of 7 January.

It is expected that its portion of new infections will likewise increase across the nation and in other countries as well as it spreads in Europe and Asia. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the new strain is now present in 25 nations as of 4 January.