New COVID variant ‘could be the one to watch for in 2023’ after rise in cases, expert warns | UK News
A new variant of COVID could be the one to “watch out for” this year after a rise in cases in the United States, an expert has said.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, pointed to a Omicron variant after a scientist said cases had more than doubled in America in a week.
More than 40% of covid cases in the United States are now caused by the XBB.1.5 variant, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday.
In the northeastern United States, approximately 75% of confirmed cases would be XBB.1.5.
US scientist Eric Topol said it now outperforms all variants and “we haven’t seen such rapid growth of a variant” since the original Omicron appeared a year ago.
In response, Professor Spector, the founder of the COVID app Zoe, tweeted: “XBB might be the new variant to watch…in 2023.”
XBB.1.5 is a mutated version of Omicron XBB, which was first detected in India in August.
XBB has been found in at least 70 countries, according to the World Health Organization, causing outbreaks of infection in parts of Asia, including India and Singapore, in October.
Studies have shown that the strain is able to evade antibodies from previous COVID infections or vaccinations.
The concern over XBB.1.5 is largely based on how it is currently spreading in the US and it has not been listed as a variant of concern by the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA).
Around 4% of all COVID cases in the UK were of the XBB 1.5 variant, according to figures from the Sanger Institute in Cambridge for the week to Saturday December 17.
‘A wake up call’
Dr Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA, said: “It is not unexpected to see new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerging. UKHSA is monitoring the situation closely as always. .
“Vaccination remains our best defense against future waves of COVID-19, so it is still just as important that people come and take all the doses they are entitled to as soon as possible.”
But Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said the new strain is a “red flag” and could exacerbate the NHS crisis.
He told Mail Online: “We don’t know how this variant will perform in the UK in a population that has already been exposed to other Omicron variants and where many over 50s have been given booster shots with a bivalent vaccine.
“Nevertheless, this is a wake-up call – a stark reminder that we cannot be complacent about COVID.
“The threat of XBB.1.5 and other COVID variants further exacerbating the current NHS crisis underscores the need for us to remain vigilant.”
Dr. Barbara Mahon of the CDC said there was no evidence that the XBB.1.5 variant causes more severe disease than any other Omicron variant.
She told NBC News, “We’re seeing hospitalizations increase across the country. They don’t seem to be increasing more in areas that have more XBB.1.5s.”
New variant ‘the next big one’
Although many public health experts are expressing concern over rising COVID cases in China – with UK among countries introducing new testing restrictions – Infectious disease experts are increasingly concerned about the XBB.1.5 variant.
Dr Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, said: “Ironically, the worst variant the world is facing right now is probably XBB.”
American epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding also called XBB.1.5 “the next big one”, saying it is “both more immune evasive and better at infecting” than previous variants.
Dr. Isaach Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said XBB.1.5 clearly has “immune evasion properties” and “we could definitely have a surge.”
But he said if it does happen it is less likely to be as deadly or overwhelming to health systems as previous waves because immunity has built up.