Health New Covid strain, Omicron XBB.1.5, is the most transmissible yet, WHO says


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The coronavirus Omicron strain XBB.1.5, which has become the dominant strain in the U.S. in just a matter of weeks, could drive a new wave of cases, a World Health Organization official told reporters Wednesday.

“We are concerned about its growth advantage, in particular in some countries in Europe and the Northeast part of the United States, where XBB.1.5 has rapidly replaced other circulating sub-variants,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead.

Still, health officials are not sure whether that means more people will go to the hospital or die, because of immunity built up by vaccination and prior infection.

Public health officials have detected the strain in 29 countries, but it could be circulating in many more, Van Kerkhove said.

In the U.S., the sub-variant went from being present in 4 percent of sequenced cases to 40 percent in just a few weeks, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha tweeted Wednesday.

But the WHO doesn’t yet know whether XBB.1.5 is more severe than other circulating sub-variants.

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