What to know about the XBB.1.5 Covid-19 Variant, and how to protect yourself and others from getting it

A new variant of Covid-19, named XBB.1.5, is spreading rapidly throughout the United States. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in December 2022, the proportion of new Covid-19 infections caused by this variant, also known as Omicron offshoot, increased from 4% to 18%. It is projected to continue rising in the future. In certain areas, it is responsible for more than half of all new infections. The World Health Organization has identified XBB.1.5 as the most highly transmissible form of the Omicron variant yet.

            The recent emergence of XBB.1.5 has sparked concern among the public. While more research is needed to fully understand the variant, here is what is currently known:

  • Studies indicate that vaccines may still be effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death caused by XBB.1.5, but more research is needed to confirm the variant’s exact impact on vaccine efficacy.
  • Current treatments for COVID-19 should still be effective against XBB.1.5, but further research is required.
  • Diagnostic tests are being developed to detect XBB.1.5, but it may not be picked up by current tests.
  • The spread of XBB.1.5 may lead to an increase in hospitalizations, potentially putting a strain on healthcare systems.
  • Mask-wearing guidelines for children in schools may be revisited as the variant’s spread is monitored.
  • As new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge, it is crucial for public health officials and scientists to closely track their spread and characteristics.

            It is confirmed that PCR tests can detect the XBB.1.5 variant, and there is no reason to believe that rapid home antigen tests will not be able to pick it up as well. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus, it is recommended that you get tested. Although the tests may not indicate which specific strain of the virus you have contracted, it will be able to detect the presence of circulating variants.

            The level of concern regarding the XBB.1.5 variant varies among individuals. Some people may not be too concerned about contracting the virus, as they may be young and healthy, have recently recovered from a previous infection, or may find the downsides of continuing precautions to outweigh the risk of infection. It is important to note that XBB.1.5 is not likely to be the last variant of concern and does not appear to cause more severe disease.

On the other hand, there are individuals who may be more worried about the potential of severe illness from COVID-19. People who are older or have underlying health conditions are at an increased risk of severe illness and should speak with their physician about their specific risk. If they are still at a high risk even after getting the bivalent booster, they may want to consider additional precautions such as requesting others to take a rapid test before socializing and wearing a high-quality N95 or equivalent mask while in crowded indoor places to avoid infection while this highly transmissible variant is circulating.

            Genomic surveillance is crucial in identifying and studying new variants of COVID-19 as they emerge. It is a part of the new normal, and it is expected that new variants will occasionally lead to an increase in infections. The important thing is to ensure that people are protected against severe disease and that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed. It is also essential that everyone utilizes the available tools, such as vaccines, to combat the spread of the virus.

            It is important for individuals to stay informed about the latest developments surrounding XBB.1.5 and continue to follow public health guidelines such as vaccination, social distancing, mask-wearing, and monitoring their health.