A new Covid variant called XBB.1.5 is in town and Elon Musk has nothing to do with it

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadJan 09, 2023 | 14:56

A new Covid variant called XBB.1.5 is in town and Elon Musk has nothing to do with it

New Covid variant, XBB.1.5, raises concern. Representative Image.

The world is still watching and biting its nails in nervousness over whether a Covid surge is on the cards this year. China is an exception and a concern. And amidst this, there is a new variant on the block, once again. It is called the XBB.1.5 or Kraken.

And like Jimmy Fallon of The Tonight Show says:

It's a new strain, but it isn't the same. It sounds more like Elon Musk's kid's name. XBB.1.5!


The variant also has a nickname, Kraken. It was named by a Canadian biology professor after a sea monster from Nordic mythology. How fitting!

So, what do we know about the variant and when is the best time to start panicking? 

XBB.1.5 has come to the limelight for driving the surge in Covid-19 cases in the US. In December 2022, the variant contributed to 4% of the overall cases. But now, it contributes to 40% of all new infections in the US. 

Omicron's cousin: XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of Omicron. So far, Omicron has outdone other Covid variants like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta in producing the number of variants. 

  • XBB.1.5 is believed to have mutated from XBB, which was reportedly driving new infections in the UK in September 2022. 
  • Now, XBB.1.5 has a specific mutation called F486P, different from others, which enables the variant to evade immunity, while also being able to bind better to human cells.
  • This is slightly different from its predecessor XBB, whose mutation allowed it to evade immunity but also reduce its ability to infect. 
  • But the XBB.1.5 combination makes the variant more transmissible variant yet - in WHO's words - which also causes the Covid-19 disease.

What is the severity of the variant? According to the WHO, it isn't yet known whether the XBB.1.5 variant is going to cause more serious and harmful Covid-19 diseases or not.

  • But the variant has a "growth advantage" over others. 

Who is vulnerable to the variant? According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, these people may be vulnerable to re-infection:

  • A person who has been infected with an earlier version of the Omicron variant is vulnerable to re-infection as immune response decreases naturally over time following infection. 
  • Those who haven't got their bivalent booster dose (like Moderna's vaccine). Bivalent Covid vaccines are those that were updated after the Omicron wave last year. India currently doesn't have one, according to Business Today.  
  • And those who got their last vaccine dose over 6 months ago. 
  • The elderly and immunocompromised persons. 


XBB.1.5 cases in India: So far, the variant has been detected in at least 29 countries. 

  • India has reported 7 infections caused by the variant so far - three from Gujarat and one each from Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
  • Symptoms are similar to that of Omicron infection and common cold. It can take up to 5 days for the symptoms to appear after infection. 
  • Wearing a face mask, sanitising, and social distancing is still the mantra for protection. 

Currently, the world is coming out of a holiday season defined by travel and social gatherings. There could be a surge related to the holiday season. On the other hand, even as cases rise in China in a population with a low vaccination rate, the government has opened up all channels of inbound and outbound travel.

According to reports, a billion people from China are set to take trips for Chinese New Year celebrations. Countries are already imposing travel restrictions and Covid checks on travellers from China. But China is yet to give the world a look into and data of how the infection is spreading and interacting with unvaccinated and vaccinated people in the country. 

Last updated: January 09, 2023 | 14:56
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