A woman sequences corona samples in the laboratory.  (Photo: IMAGO, IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

According to estimates, XBB.1.5 already dominates in the USA. Within a few weeks, the omicron variant spread rapidly there. According to the WHO, it is the most contagious corona variant to date, and it is now referred to as the corona “octopus”. It has now been detected in 38 countries – including Germany. What does that mean for the infection process in this country?

Rapid spread in the USA

It has doubled since November 2022 Percentage of new infections with XBB.1.5 in the USA almost weekly, at the same time will be back more new infections reported. Currently, over 80 percent of all XBB.1.5 sequencing worldwide comes from the USA. Almost everything that is known about XBB.1.5 is based on these cases. They show: XBB.1.5 probably has a growth advantage and could therefore also lead to an increase in new infections. The WHO gives that in one first risk assessment known. However, since this estimate is based on only a few cases and observations from just one country, there are still major uncertainties, according to the WHO.

XBB.1.5. Infection occurrence in Europe

Globally, too, the great uncertainties only allow speculation as to how the infection process will develop worldwide. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warns against that XBB.1.5 could also have an increasing influence on the infection process in Europe. However, this assessment is also subject to a high level of uncertainty due to the uncertainties surrounding the growth rate.

According to media reports, there are already more and more cases in Great Britain. Almost every tenth of the worldwide sequenced XBB.1.5 variants comes from there. In which countries the virus variant is currently still spreading and how quickly is difficult to estimate, warns epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Covid-19 Head of Expertise. Because globally there is less and less sequencing.

By sequencing a Covid sample, it can be determined which virus variant is present. In this way, new mutations can also be detected.


A high XBB.1.5 proportion does not mean a high wave of infections in Germany

In Germany, the virus subtype first detected at the end of November 2022. At the end of the year, XBB.1.5 accounted for one percent nationwide, according to the Robert Koch Institute in the current weekly report. It is very likely that this proportion will increase and that the omicron subtype could become the dominant variant here due to the high transferability, estimates the virologist Christian Drosten in the NDR podcast “Corona Virus Update”.

The ECDC expresses itself a little more cautiously, because in the USA and the EU large differences in the distribution of variants were observed several times during the pandemic. Unlike in the USA, many people in Germany were infected with Corona in the past summer and autumn wave. Due to the current immunity of the population, a high wave of infections is not necessarily to be expected, according to Drosten.

Empirical data do not indicate a more severe course

The new subvariant is more contagious, but so far there is no evidence that it would lead to more severe disease progression, according to the WHO. According to the WHO’s current risk assessment, XBB.1.5 does not carry any mutation known to lead to a change in the severity of the disease. A concrete assessment of the severity is still pending. And the spread of XBB.1.5 is also being monitored in Germany, explains Federal Minister of Health Lauterbach on Twitter.

In the USA, in addition to the number of infections, hospital admissions are also increasing. But in the northeast of the country, where XBB.1.5 has become the dominant variant with a share of up to 70 percent, there is no disproportionately high increase.

Doctors treat a Covid patient in the hospital.  (Photo: IMAGO, IMAGO / Everett Collection)

Hospital admissions are on the rise in the United States. However, this cannot currently be attributed to the spread of XBB.1.5, according to Drosten.

IMAGO / Everett Collection

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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