February 7, 2023

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WHO says the new variant of Covid is the most transmissible yet identified

Covid-19 Corona virus

| Photo: Archive/AT

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the identification of a new variant of the coronavirus behind the surge in Covid cases in the US is a wake-up call for the rest of the world.

Called XBB.1.5, it is a derivative of XBB and has been identified in at least 29 countries. In the United States, it replaced the Omicron variants BA.5 and BQ.1, representing more than 75% of samples in some parts of the country, such as New York.

In a presentation to the WHO Technical Committee this Wednesday (4), epidemiologist and head of the Covid team, Maria Van Gerkov, said that “this variant is highly transmissible due to the mutations that have accumulated so far”. It has immunity, that is, it manages to escape the immunity provided by vaccines and previous infections.

According to the epidemiologist, the WHO technical group met last Tuesday (3) to discuss the increase in Covid cases in China, but also discussed the rapid spread of XBB.1.5, which is already showing signs of concern for the group.

“The more rounded this variation is, the more likely it is that we expect new waves of infections around the world, although we still have no indication of the potential severity or the clinical picture,” he said.

Kerkov added that XBB.1.5 may be growing in many countries around the world, but delays in processing samples make it difficult to estimate the scale of the scene. He said the variety has a clear growth advantage in the northeastern United States, where it has been able to dominate compared to other varieties.

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In a study published Dec. 13 in the specialized journal Cell, scientists warn of the escape of antibodies from subtypes of BQ and XBB lineages, including BQ.1, identified in Brazil in October, and XBB.1. For variation in circulation.

According to research involving scientists from Columbia University and the University of Michigan (both in the US), the level of antibodies in people who received three or four doses of the vaccine against the original virus in Wuhan (the Chinese city of Wuhan). coronavirus was detected early) and those vaccinated with Omicron-adapted bivalents had almost zero immunity against XBB.1.

So-called escape vaccines with omicron variants BA.4 or BA.5 fail to prevent new infections with XBB.1.

The same concern emerged with monoclonal antibodies, a treatment used to treat severe cases of Covid-19, which have had virtually no effect against the variants.

“Rapid evolution of new subspecies [de BQ.1 e XBB.1] and the accumulation of mutations they contain, particularly in protein S [espícula usada pelo vírus para invadir as células] “This is similar to what we saw when Omicron first came out in early 2021, raising concerns about how they could affect the effectiveness of current Covid vaccines and monoclonal therapies,” the paper’s authors wrote.