XBB.1.5 Kraken on the prowl: Mask up is still best policy indoor/outdoor

EXPERTS are now keeping a close eye on the new Omicron strain XBB.1.5 – dubbed Kraken on the Twitterverse – for its potential to cause the next major COVID wave due to its “escape strain” properties and ultra-high transmissibility.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical advisory group on virus evolution is working on a risk assessment on the variant which is reported to have “rapidly replaced other variants” in some European countries and in the northeast US, according to the Fortune Well portal.

“XBB.1.5 is a recombinant or combination of two spin-offs of Omicron BA.2 known as ‘stealth Omicron’ for its ability to produce false negatives on some tests,” enlightened the healthcare site.

“Right now, experts are focused on the variant’s growth advantage over other strains of Omicron. In the US, XBB.1.5 was projected to comprise just around 1% of cases in early December. A month later, it’s projected to be behind 40% of cases.”

Meanwhile, the Korea Herald reported on Tuesday (Jan 3) that that the Omicron subvariant has already arrived in South Korea Iast month, raising concerns over the spread of the strain believed to have resistance against updated vaccines.

“XBB.1.5 variant has been detected in the country on Dec. 8, 2022. So far, a total of 13 XBB.1.5 cases have been confirmed, including six cases in South Korea and seven cases from overseas,” revealed the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Dec 24, the Korean disease control agency said only 5.7% of the COVID-19 cases in the country were of subvariants, including XBB.1.5, but there is a possibility that XBB.1.5 will become dominant within a short period as it has in the US.

To date, it is believed that the XBB.1.5 strain has yet to arrive at the Malaysian shores given that local virologists are still focusing their attention on the BA.5.2 and BF.7 – which account for almost 80% of the variants found in China currently – but are no longer newcomers in the country.

Kumitaa Theva Das of Universiti Sains Malaysia told the Free Malaysia Today (FMT) news portal it is “highly likely” that most Malaysians have developed immunity against BA.5.2 which was first detected in Malaysia around March 2022.

As for BF.7, it was first detected in Malaysia around August and September last year in Selangor, Pahang and Melaka.

“As we did not see an exponential increase in cases then, it is unlikely that the same subvariants would pose a threat to us now,” she told FMT, adding that since BF.7 has been reported in more than 90 countries, there is no need to hit the panic button on the influx of China’s tourists to Malaysia amid concerns over a surge of COVID-19 cases in China.

On Monday (Jan 2), Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah was quoted by Bernama as saying that as of Dec 31, there were 4,148 cases infected with BA.5.2 and three cases infected with BF.7 in the country.

He, however, clarified that there was no data to link serious cases or deaths to the BA.5.2 and BF.7 subvariants. – Jan 6, 2023


Main pic credit: Canva

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