XBB, the new so-called “Nightmare” COVID-19 variantis spreading rapidly in parts of the world and has already made its way to the US, researchers say.
XBB is a variant of omicron and has been dubbed the “Nightmare Variant” in Singapore. It is extremely immune-preventable and has also shown that it could be immune to current vaccines.
“Singapore’s XBB variant wave will soon be its second-worst for the pandemic,” said Dr. Eric Topol, founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted. “The reinfection rate before the wave was 5% and now up to 17%, which tells us something about the immune escape characteristics of this variant (similar to BQ.1.1, very high level of immune escape)”
According to fortuneXBB was first reported in the US on 9/15. It is not yet widespread as only 16 cases have been reported here, mostly in New York.
The CDC’s latest update on the spread of COVID variants still shows no signs of XBB in New Englandlike BA.5, BA.4.6 and the new variants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 continue to dominate. But during the pandemic COVID numbers New York has often been the first glimpse of what Massachusetts and the other southern New England states have to offer.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease specialist who serves as the technical lead for the COVID-19 response at the World Health Organization, posted a video on Twitter on Wednesday to address the growing concerns about the XBB variant. She said XBB is a “recombinant” of two BA.2 sublineages, BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.10.75.
“We know that this recombinant has a significant growth advantage. All subvariants of Omicron show increased transmissibility and immune escape properties,” she said. “With this recombinant XBB, we have a study based on a pseudovirus, so not a live virus, that analyzes antibody escape and shows significant immune evasion. And that matters to us because we need to make sure that the vaccines that are in use around the world will continue to be effective in preventing serious illness and death.”
Van Kerkhove said there had been no evidence of increased severity in variants XBB and BQ.1.1 and BQ.1, “but it’s very early days and we have very little data to assess this.”
“We have to be prepared for that,” she said. “Countries need to be able to monitor, deal with an increase in cases and maybe an increase in hospital admissions. We are not yet seeing a change in severity and our vaccines remain effective, but we must remain vigilant.”
COVID cases have begun to creep in across New England in recent weeks. Massachusetts health officials reported 7,865 new COVID-19 cases and 60 new deaths in last week’s report. The state’s average seven-day positivity was 8.60% last week, compared to 7.76% the week before. Updated nationwide COVID data is scheduled to be released Thursday afternoon.
The CDC’s COVID risk level has also been rising steadily in southern New England recentlywhen all of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are now included in the intermediate risk category.
While doctors polled by NBC10 Boston this week said they expect some winter surge, they said there’s still no data to suggest the new variants will cause more severe disease.
“Only time will tell,” said Dr. said Sabrina Assoumou of Boston Medical Center. “Unfortunately, my big message is that we are seeing more variants and the virus is indeed finding better ways to evade our protection, but we are not hopeless and it is not a helpless situation. We have vaccines, they do work, but the important thing is that you need to be up to date… So please do your research so all of us in the community are prepared for a possible winter surge.”
“I think it’s likely that the proportion of cases caused by the new variants will continue to increase because they appear to be able to evade immunity,” added Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “But for the general public. I think the problem will be, first of all, that receiving a booster vaccine like Dr. Assoumou said it will boost immunity because even if this variant can bypass the antibodies and infect people and give them a cold, they won’t have anything much worse than an upper respiratory tract infection if they’ve recently been boosted, because it seems one to give much broader cross protection for all these major disease variants, and that’s really an important point.