New COVID-19 Variant Becoming Dominant Strain in the US as Hospitalizations Tick Up
A new sub-variant called XBB.1.5 has emerged as the dominant strain in the United States. This omicron sub-variant is currently responsible for 40.5 percent of COVID-19 infections. The new sub-variant is particularly dominant in the Northeast, as it accounts for three-quarters of cases in the region. A recent study shows that the XBB and BQ sub-variants is much better than previous strains at evading people’s immune responses. The researchers clarified that “although infections may now be more likely, COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to remain effective at preventing hospitalization and severe disease even against Omicron as well as possibly reducing the risk of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC or long COVID)”.
The rise of XBB.15 comes amid an upward trend in overall COVID-19 cases. Last week, hospitalizations from all variants rose by more than 4%, compared to the previous week. Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions increased by about 9% over the same time period. The new variant is significantly more contagious than past strains of the virus, but researchers do not yet know whether it is more likely to causes severe illness than other variants. Scientists are working to address this question. However, one potential clue is that US regions seeing the highest share of the new variant have not seen a disproportionate rise in hospitalizations. Rigorous, peer-reviewed studies will provide more definitive answers about XBB.15.