If you've read the news recently, you may have heard of the new COVID variant that's fast spreading in the US, called XBB.1.5, nicknamed Kraken.
Experts have warned that the highly infectious variant has been detected in at least 29 countries so far, and have urged people to keep their guards up.
What do we know about the variant? Has the variant made it to India? Should you be worried?
FIT answers your FAQs.
What is XBB.1.5?
The XBB.1.5 strain is a subvariant of the XBB variant, which in turn is a subvariant of Omicron.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), currently, around 41 percent of COVID cases in the US are thought to be of the XBB.1.5 subvariants.
Is it a variant of concern?
Yes, since Omicron was labelled a variant of concern, all its subvariants are automatically considered variants of concern.
What is the status of XBB.1.5 in India?
As per Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), so far 7 confirmed cases have been detected in India, with three of them from Gujarat and one each in the states of Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Is it more infectious than other Omicron subvariants?
Yes, according to the World Health Organisation, XBB.1.5 is, "the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet."
"The reason for this are the mutations that are within this subvariant of Omicron allowing this virus to adhere to the cell and replace easily," Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead told the press on Wednesday, 5 January.
But, is it more deadly?
It doesn't seem to be. According to the WHO and other experts, while XBB.1.5 is highly infectious, it doesn't seem to make people any sicker than other Omicron sub-variants would.
Does the vaccine offer protection against XBB.1.5?
Omicron and it's subvariants are known to circumvent vaccine protection.
According to experts, XBB.1.5 can circumvent antibodies from vaccines and prior infections just as well as XBB, and XBB.1 subvariants.
What is the transmission period?
You are contagious for at least two to three days before your symptoms appear, and you are still contagious for at least two to three days after your symptoms appear — though some people can have detectable live virus for up to a week after symptom onset.
It may take up to 5 days after exposure for symptoms to appear.
What can you do to protect yourself?