Covid: what we know about the XBB.1.5 sub-variant, which could become dominant in Europe

The highly contagious Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant, which is spreading rapidly in Covid-19 cases in the United States, is expected to become dominant in Europe within a month or two, the European agency responsible for epidemics. This subvariant, which was first detected in the United States in October and is the most contagious vector of the new coronavirus to date, poses a “low risk to the population as a whole”, according to the latest assessment published by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“Currently no sign that the severity of the infection is different”

This risk is however “moderate to high” for “vulnerable people, such as the elderly, unvaccinated or immunocompromised”, according to the European agency based in Stockholm. For the ECDC, “many gray areas exist with XBB.1.5 and this assessment could change in the coming weeks”. While it now accounts for more than 27% of infections in the United States, XBB.1.5 was still only responsible for 2.5% of Covid-19 cases in the last weeks of 2022, according to the ECDC.

“ECDC’s mathematical models indicate that XBB1.5 could become dominant in the European Union (…) within one to two months, due to the low number of cases currently reported “on the continent” and its pace of progress.

According to the European Epidemic Agency, “there is currently no evidence that the severity of infection with XBB.1.5 is different from other Omicron sublines.” A total of 38 countries have reported cases of XBB.1.5, including 82% in the United States, 8% in the United Kingdom and 2% in Denmark, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. It looks a lot like its predecessor XBB.1, but has an additional mutation in its spike protein, the virus’s famous entry key, according to virologists.

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