Explainer: What to know about XBB.1.5, the new COVID-19 variant

A new COVID-19 variant that researchers say is more contagious than previous variants is now responsible for nearly half of the cases of infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The CDC said Friday it is tracking the new variant and estimates that XBB.1.5 makes up 40.5% of new infections across the country.

It is now the dominant strain of new infections in the U.S.

What is XBB.1.5 and how dangerous is it? Here’s what we know now about the new variant.

What Is XBB.1.5?

XBB.1.5 is a recombinant variant of the BA.2 omicron version of the COVID-19 virus. That means it came from two different omicron BA.2 variants.

How is XBB.1.5 different?

The new variant is highly contagious, according to researchers.

Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the XBB.1.5 has an additional mutation that makes it bind better to cells, making it more spreadable.

“The virus needs to bind tightly to cells to be more efficient at getting in and that could help the virus be a little bit more efficient at infecting people,” Pekosz said.

What are the symptoms of XBB.1.5?

Congestion and body aches seem to be the most common symptoms of the new variant.

Additional symptoms seen with the variant are fever, chills, cough and sore throat.

Where is XBB.1.5 being seen the most now?

While the variant is believed to be responsible for nearly half of new cases in the country, as of Friday, XBB.1.5 was responsible for around 75% of cases in the Northeast.

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are all reporting high numbers of cases, according to the CDC.

Is XBB.1.5 more dangerous?

While the variant appears to be more contagious, it is not yet clear if it is more dangerous.

Dr. Alpana Waghmare, an infectious disease expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, told The New York Times that as of yet there is no evidence to suggest that people who are infected with XBB.1.5 will be more likely to suffer severe symptoms of the COVID-19 infection.

Should you get a booster to fight XBB.1.5?

It is unclear if the bivalent COVID-19 booster works against the new variant, but some doctors believe it may help cut the risk of severe disease.

Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious disease physician and immunology researcher at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Times that “the T cell protection that arises from the booster should still be able to protect you against severe illness if you are infected.”

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