‘Most-transmissible’ COVID-19 subvariant XBB.1.5 detected in Alberta

‘Most-transmissible’ COVID-19 subvariant XBB.1.5 detected in Alberta

The most “transmissible” variant of COVID-19 to date is in Alberta.

On Wednesday, an Alberta Health spokesman confirmed that four cases of XBB.1.5 had been identified in the province.

“We are monitoring this new sub-variant and managing cases as they emerge,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Read more: 21 cases of XBB.1.5. COVID subvariant confirmed in Canada

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21 cases of XBB.1.5. COVID subvariant confirmed in Canada

Genome sequencing capable of detecting the specific subvariant is only performed for PCR testing, which in Alberta is restricted to individuals at high clinical risk of infection or individuals living and/or working in high-risk environments.

The new subvariant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is the result of recombination of two previous BA.2 subvariants and is the most transmissible COVID variant to date.

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“It is the most transmissible subvariant discovered so far,” said WHO technical director Maria Van Kerkhove. “The reason for this is the mutations in this recombinant – this subvariant of Omicron – which allow this virus to stick to the cell and replicate easily.”

2:11 New COVID subvariant XBB.1.5 ‘highly transmissible’ discovered so far: WHO

The province encourages Albertans to keep up to date on vaccinations. Booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine are recommended five months after a last dose or infection, with a shorter interval being considered for those at high risk of severe outcomes.

“Wearing a mask, especially in crowded indoor spaces, can help reduce your risk of getting sick and protect others from exposure,” Alberta Health said.

BREAKING: Alberta Health Spox confirms that four cases of XBB.1.5 (aka Kraken) have been detected in the province so far.
XBB.1.5 has proven to be more transmissible and immune avoidant than any other COVID variant.#COVID19AB

— Adam Toy (@Adam_Toy) January 5, 2023

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dr Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said the emergence of a new variant shouldn’t come as a surprise.

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“We know that other variants will emerge. Every time (COVID-19) infects someone, there is a risk that mutations will lead to another variant. And this is a variant that has gained the ability to be more contagious than its original Omicron version,” Jenne told Global News.

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Kerkhove said earlier on Wednesday that XBB.1.5 was detected in 29 countries worldwide, including the United States.

“It has a growth advantage over all other subvariants.”

Kerkhove noted that there has been rapid spread in the northeastern United States

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dr Lorna Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, said looking at other jurisdictions could predict what waves of a particular variant that province could bring. Saxinger said she found it useful to look at the UK experience.

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“Right now, they’re seeing an increase in XBB.1.5, and they haven’t seen a really well-established change in hospitalization intensity,” she said. “In fact, they’ve probably improved for the most part over the winter holiday season.”

Saxinger found that the immunological history of different populations makes it harder to compare locations.

Read more: XBB.1.5. in Canada: Experts call for ‘aggressive’ testing to detect emerging COVID variants

The US Centers for Disease Control said XBB.1.5 has quickly become 44 percent of cases nationally and is on the verge of becoming the dominant variant.

“XBB.1.5 may be more easily transmissible than other variants, but we don’t know if it causes more serious disease,” the CDC said, a view echoed by the World Health Organization.

“I would call it more antibody-evasive because the immune system naturally does a lot of different things,” Saxinger told Rob Breakenridge on 770 CHQR. “And so far we haven’t seen any signal that this variant is necessarily more talented to cause serious disease.”

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She warns of the possibility of a strain that is both easily transmissible and has increased disease severity.

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“What would really concern me is if we had a strain that had a competitive edge and looked more severe from the start – more towards Delta severe – I think that would be a really worrying development.”

Saxinger said that doesn’t appear to be the case with XBB.1.5.

Read more: At least 12 cases of XBB 1.5 COVID-19 subvariant now confirmed in BC

“We expect further waves of infections around the world, but that doesn’t have to lead to further waves of deaths because our countermeasures continue to work,” said Van Kerkhove with regard to vaccines and treatments.

Updated data on Alberta COVID hospitalizations, deaths and PCR testing since December 19, 2022 is expected to be released Friday afternoon.

–with files from Reuters

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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