COVID-19 XBB, BQ.1 variants are spreading in Europe, Asia; American scientists explain what to expect here


SAN FRANCISCO — Infectious disease experts are keeping an eye on the multiple variants of COVID-19 that have resulted in rising cases in both Europe and Asia.

For several weeks now, experts have noted a spike in COVID cases in Europe and Asia. Most point to the XBB and BQ.1 variants. Scientists in the US think that’s our warning signal.

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“XBB has spread very rapidly in Singapore where it has overtaken BA5,” said Nadia Roan, PhD, adding, “Both are of great concern because they are highly transmissible.”

The CDC already attributes 5.7% of US cases to the BQ.1 variant and 47 sequences to XBB, according to data from an international research organization that tracks these strains.

What makes them different from other strains? Gladstone Institutes Principal Investigator Nadia Roan explains: “They have mutated their surface protein in such a way that antibodies, prompted by previous infection or by vaccination, don’t work as well against them. That’s why they are so highly communicable”.

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Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, thinks we’ll see more cases in the US, but remains hopeful.

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“I would look at the UK. We saw cases go up about four weeks ago. They went down, not very high of cases. Severe disease, hospitalizations flat,” Dr Gandhi said.

Light Pena: “What is your projection? What will the next wave of COVID-19 look like here?”

Dr. Monica Gandhi: “I think we’re going to see an increase in cases. That is, mild infections. Right now, we’re in a COVID pause. Right now we’re getting more influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. So COVID will take over the role of causing mild infections . .”

Gandhi doesn’t think we’ll see an increase in hospitalizations in the US, but advises equipping yourself with the latest booster to combat omicron strains.

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