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Kraken – the new COVID subvariant

    SARS CoV 2 virus
Multiple subvariants of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus have popped up around the world over the past three years. Image: Yhdysvaltain Tautikeskus CDC

There’s a new Omicron subvariant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It is identified as XBB.1.5 and it’s also called “Kraken” – after a legendary sea monster of gargantuan size said to appear off the coasts of Norway.

According to the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, speaking at a news conference on January 4, existing data suggest that this new XBB.1.5 is the “most transmissible” subvariant that has been discovered yet.

As of January 9, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has confirmed up to 42 new cases of the “Kraken.” It was double the 21 confirmed cases reported the week before.

In an interview on Global News, Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre in British Columbia, said that the subvariant could likely become the dominant variant in Canada soon, especially given how rapidly it’s spreading in the United States and Asia. “So, if someone has had their vaccines, two vaccines let’s say, maybe even three,” Conway recommended that they get their bivalent boosters “as soon as they are able to.”

Keeping up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations continues to be one of the most effective ways to protect against serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 according to PHAC.

The PHAC further advises the public to stay vigilant and follow public health measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. They include things like staying home when sick, properly wearing a well-fitted mask, washing hands, and with it being winter and people spending more time inside, improving indoor ventilation is very important.

It’s still unknown whether illness caused by XBB.1.5 is more severe than that caused by other recent COVID strains. Scientists will need to see more hospitalization and death data before determining whether XBB.1.5 is more likely to cause serious illness compared to earlier versions of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to a December 21 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, early evidence suggests that bivalent boosters – the two updated boosters made by Moderna and Pfizer – offer protection against XBB viruses and are still effective in protecting against severe disease. Even if a person gets infected, that person is expected to have less viral load, and is likely to spread less virus. The vaccines still have strong protection against serious illness or death.