As a variant of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 – the XBB.1.5 subvariant – becomes more prevalent in parts of the US, health experts say it likely escapes immune defenses better than previous mutations, However it is still not clear whether it causes more severe disease.
More than 80 percent of coronavirus cases in the Northeast are now attributable to XBB.1.5.
According to health officials, XBB.1.5 appears to be the most commonly transmitted subvariant of Omicron that has been detected so far. Bivalent COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments such as paxlovid and molnupiravir are still believed to be effective in treating the strain, although they may not be as effective compared to previous mutations.
Physicians in the Northeast who spoke with Hill said they haven’t seen any noticeable difference in disease severity among their recent COVID-19 patients.
Bernard Kamins, medical director for infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, said the proportion of patients with illness severe enough to require a stay in the intensive care unit is similar to the previous variant.
Cammins said a recent labor dispute with nurses at the Mount Sinai Health System presented more disruption to his hospital than the post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases.
“The presentation is the same for the most part. They may not be presenting as sick, but we’re still seeing a lot of very sick patients and we’re certainly still seeing patients dying.” , “said Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford Healthcare in Connecticut.
Wu said that XBB.1.5 does not appear to be more lethal and noted that any time more cases of COVID-19 are seen, the morbidity and mortality will increase.
“The fact is, [people] Shouldn’t be overly concerned about the new forms as they should be as concerned about this version as they were about the previous version. They are all equally dangerous to some degree,” Wu said.
Shira Doron, chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Boston, said the new major strain in her area was “really not such a big deal.” According to Doron, his hospital has seen a “slight” increase in new admissions, although he added that most patients who test positive for the coronavirus are being admitted for another illness, not because of a COVID-19 infection .
“I feel like we’re in a really good place. I want to make sure that we don’t lose access to testing, we don’t lose access to treatment.” 19.
In early January, the Food and Drug Administration said it did not anticipate the preventive coronavirus monoclonal antibody treatment, EuShield, to be effective against XBB subvariants. The treatment was authorized for people who may not have developed a strong enough immune response to COVID-19 vaccines.
Jo-Anne Passalacqua, an infectious disease specialist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Connecticut, said she doesn’t think there’s any reason to believe XBB.1.5 represents a change in disease severity.
“The people we are seeing who are very ill with COVID are very similar to people who were very ill with COVID before. They’re either frail elderly or they’re people with underlying heart or lung disease, you know, or some or some underlying immune compromise,” she said.
While the severity doesn’t appear to be worsening, Passalacqua cited some concerns when it came to the latest mutation. Recent studies, such as one by researchers at the University of Texas, found that bivalent COVID-19 boosters had less efficacy against Omicron subvariants such as BQ.1.1 and XBB.1, causing the strain that is spreading widely in the Northeast happens less.
“I think that information is very important because the public, the world, is back in many respects to life as we knew it,” she said, noting families gathered and people traveled over the holidays as they Did in pre-COVID times.
“And that might be okay if you’re a largely healthy person, if they get Covid and it gets a little more severe, they can call your doctor and get some paxlovid. But it Will not be good for someone who has heart disease, lung disease, frail and elderly. For those people, that infection can cause death.
Health care providers who spoke with Hill encourage everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.
Frederick Bushman, who oversees the Bushman Lab, a microbiology research lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said that even though vaccines may be less effective against a particular subvariant, people are still immune.
“Our countermeasures are getting better and better. The vaccines still work. Go out and get vaccinated. Maybe they work a little less well with the new version, but they still work.”
Passalacqua emphasized that people must “go back to some basics” when it comes to limiting the spread of infectious diseases. He urged people to use simple measures like washing hands, wearing masks in crowded places and staying home if feeling sick.