New variant XBB.1.5, is most transmissible yet, could fuel covid wave;

Three years after the novel coronavirus emerged, a new variant, XBB.1.5, is quickly becoming the dominant strain in parts of the United States because of a potent mix of mutations that makes it easier to spread broadly, including among those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.

XBB.1.5, pegged by the World Health Organization as “the most transmissible” descendant yet of the omicron variant, rose from barely 2 percent of U.S. cases at the start of December to more than 27 percent the first week of January, according to new estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 70 percent of cases in the Northeast are believed to be XBB.1.5.

While there is no evidence so far that XBB.1.5 is more virulent than its predecessors, a recent swirl of misinformation linking the rise of new variants to vaccination has cast a spotlight on this latest strain and raised concern among some health experts that it could further limit booster uptake.

“XBB did not evolve because people were vaccinated,” said Vaughn Cooper, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Pittsburgh. “The way it evolved, let’s be straight, is because people were infected by multiple viruses at the same time.”

XBB, BQ.1.1, BA.2.75.2 — a variant swarm could fuel a winter surge

Since the omicron variant ignited an explosion of cases last winter, it spawned a host of descendants that are even more adept at slipping past antibodies and caused most infections in the United States. The XBB line emerged as a result of two other omicron subvariants swapping parts.

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