New COVID strain is more transmissible

people in masks
Photo credit Getty Images

The World Health Organization is sounding an alarm on the latest Covid strain, saying it's highly transmissible.

The organization says 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.

"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," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Covid-19 technical lead, told reporters Wednesday, Politico reported.

What the WHO does not know is whether XBB.1.5 is more severe than other circulating sub-variants.

"It is the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet," Van Kerkhove said, per CNBC. "The reason for this are the mutations that are within this subvariant of omicron allowing this virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily."

The strain has been detected in 29 countries so far but is likely even more widespread.

"The more this virus circulates the more opportunities it will have to change," Van Kerkhove said. "We do expect further waves of infection around the world."

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said XBB.1.5 went from being detected in 4% of sequenced cases to 40% in just a few weeks.

"That's a stunning increase," Jha said.

Officials are still awaiting data on how well vaccines neutralize XBB.1.5, but Jha offered a warning.

"If you had an infection before July or  your last vaccine was before bivalent update in September, your protection against an XBB.1.5 infection is probably not that great," he said. "For folks without a very recent infection or a bivalent vaccine, you likely have very little protection against infection -- and for older folks, diminishing protection against serious illness."

Jha urged everyone to get the new bivalent vaccine, saying it offers the "best protection" against both infection and serious illness.

"Whether we'll have an XBB.1.5 wave (and if yes, how big) will depend on many factors, including immunity of the population, people's actions, etc.," he said. "Together, we can keep the disruption of XBB.1.5 to a minimum. If more people get the updated vaccine and people who are at elevated risk get treated, we can prevent most cases of serious illness and save lives."

Jha also shared tips to minimize risk of being infected with the new strain:

• Make sure you are up to date on the bivalent booster
• Test before large gatherings or before seeing someone vulnerable
• Wear a high-quality mask in crowded indoor spaces
• Work to improve ventilation/filtration in indoor spaces
• If you have symptoms: test right away and avoid hanging out with high risk folks
• If you do get Covid – immediately get evaluated for treatments

LISTEN on the Audacy App
Sign up and follow Audacy
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images