People who haven’t had COVID will likely catch XBB.1.5 – Experts
…Says many will get reinfected
The newest COVID-19 variant, XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant is so contagious that even people who’ve avoided it so far are getting infected and the roughly 80% of Americans who’ve already been infected are likely to catch it again, experts say.
Essentially, everyone in the country is at risk for infection now, even if they’re super careful, up to date on vaccines, or have caught it before, said Paula Cannon, a virologist at the University of Southern California.
“It’s crazy infectious,” said Cannon, who is recovering from her first case of COVID-19, caught when she was vacationing over the holidays in her native Britain.
“All the things that have protected you for the past couple of years, I don’t think are going to protect you against this new crop of variants,” she said.
The number of severe infections and deaths remains relatively low, despite the high level of infections, she said, thanks to vaccinations – and probably – previous infections. But the lack of universal masking means that even people like her, who do wear masks, are vulnerable.
The latest variant, called XBB.1.5, grew exponentially over the month of December, from about 1% of cases nationwide to 27% as of Jan. 7, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The variant is likely behind the vast majority of cases in New York and New England.
Its growth is probably due to XBB.1.5’s characteristics – it appears to bind even more tightly to receptors in the human body than its predecessors – as well as human behavior, such as traveling and not masking.
It’s a good idea to do what you can to avoid getting infected, said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.
It’s still early and there are a lot of unknowns about XBB.1.5, he said. Every infection makes someone vulnerable to a bad course of the disease and to the lingering, miserable symptoms of long COVID, Al-Aly’s research shows.
“Reinfection buys you additional risk,” he said.
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