Jan 7, 2023 - Health

XBB.1.5 COVID subvariant still rising in the U.S., CDC says

Illustration of a street sign featuring a skulls and bones with a virus icon in place of the skull

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is still spreading rapidly in the United States, but it has had a slower increase than originally thought, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: The originally-reported high number of XBB.1.5 cases stoked fears from experts about how fast the virus was surging in the country, especially in the Northeast.

Details: The CDC's estimates last week showed that the XBB.1.5 strain was responsible for 40.5% of confirmed U.S. cases for the week ending on Dec. 31, 2022, as Axios reported.

  • But on Friday, the CDC's estimates changed to show that the XBB.1.5 variant made up 18.3% of cases for the week ending on Dec. 31, 2022, and 27.6% of sequenced cases for the week ending on Jan. 7.

Of note: XBB.1.5 is the only Omicron subvariant that is still showing growth in the United States, sitting behind the BQ.1.1 variant (which made up 34% of cases last week) in the U.S., according to the CDC's estimates.

  • Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said in a lengthy Twitter thread it's still unclear if the XBB.1.5 variant is more severe than previous variants.

What they're saying: The XBB.1.5 strain “is the most transmissible form of Omicron to date," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said, according to CNN.

  • “We do expect further waves of infection around the world, but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work,” she said, per CNN.

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