The Kraken is here.
A subvariant of the micromicron virus COVID-19 XBB.1.5, dubbed “Kraken” because it is easier to transmit and not as easy to protect against as some other strains, has been officially detected in Travis County, according to Austin Public Health.
Last week, the Austin Public Health Authority announced that another strain of omicron XBB.1 had been detected during surveillance. Now he has found XBB.1.5.
The XBB.1.5 strain currently accounts for 27.6% of all COVID-19 cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, this is 16.6% of cases.
When the first of the XBBs arrived last week, Dr. Desmar Walks, a spokesman for the Austin-Travis County Health Department, said the timing of its arrival, along with other respiratory viruses, was a concern.
“This new sub-option is making its way into our community as many people have gathered indoors with others during cold weather and holidays,” she said. “When mixed with an influenza infection, this combination can cause serious illness in individuals at risk, such as children and the elderly.”
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How is the XBB.1.5 COVID variant different?
It is called the Kraken because of its transmissibility. In December, it rose from 1% of all COVID-19 cases to 40% of cases by the end of the month.
People who have not yet had COVID-19 are expected to become infected with XBB.1.5 due to its transmissibility and more people gathering without masking.
Here’s what we know about XBB variants:
- XBB variants quickly supplanted other sub-variants in the US. The same was done earlier in Europe.
- The bivalent booster (upgraded booster) still provides a level of protection and reduces the risk of hospitalization.
- XBB variants are resistant to existing treatments for COVID-19, such as monoclonal antibody infusions. This is especially true for people with weakened immune systems.
- XBB variants appear to respond to antiviral treatment available to reduce symptoms.
- Symptoms of XBB variants are the same as other COVID-19 variants: cough, nasal congestion, exhaustion, fever, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, and headaches.
The main difference between XBB.1.5 lies in the mutation of one of the spike proteins, which makes it more infectious. This facilitates the capture of receptors in the body and begins to inhabit cells in places like the nose, throat and lungs before spreading to other parts of the body.
Like other XBBs, it can overcome some of the other defenses we have developed, such as monoclonal antibodies.
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What does our local spread of COVID-19 look like?
Last Thursday, the CDC upgraded the transmission rate of COVID-19 in Travis, Williamson, and Bastrop counties from low to medium. Hayes and Caldwell counties have been at a high level for two weeks now. This follows months when all counties were low.
Levels are adjusted every Thursday afternoon.
As the rate of spread has increased, Austin Public Health is recommending that all people wear masks when social distancing is not possible, and that people at risk of serious complications should wear masks in all public places. Caldwell and Hayes counties must follow the guidelines for the high prevalence area, which means masking in public places for everyone.
Austin Public Health has already again required masks in all healthcare facilities since mid-December.
Transmission rates (number of cases per 100,000 people) range from 122.1 to 187.8, depending on the county, above 60 for most of last fall.
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What can you do to protect yourself?
- Consider putting on your mask again. You can get free N95 masks from local pharmacies. Use the CDC mask search tool to find a site with free masks.
- Get vaccinated and stay up to date with boosters now available for people aged 6 months and up. You can find boosters at most local pharmacies, although it’s a good idea to make an appointment to make sure they have the right dose for you. Find locations on the vaccine.gov website.
- Stay home if you are sick and wait until you have a fever for 24 hours to return to public places, although you should wear a mask for five days after testing positive and try not to go outside during those five days, even if you do not have a fever.
- Have home tests handy and check them out, even if you think it’s just cedar fever or a cold. Free rapid COVID-19 antigen tests can be ordered by mail at covid.gov/tests. Households are eligible for another round of four tests for a limited time. Home COVID-19 testing kits are available at APH Community Centers while supplies last. The US Department of Health and Human Services also publishes community-based testing sites on the Internet.