Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) is concerned about the new coronavirus variant XBB.1.5. "Hopefully we can get through the winter before such a variant can spread to us," he wrote on Twitter on Thursday night. "We monitor whether and how strong XBB.1.5 occurs in Germany." The new variant is increasing the number of hospital admissions in the north-east of the USA.
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At the beginning of the year, the US health authority CDC estimated that XBB.1.5 accounted for around 40.5 percent of all new infections in the USA in the week before the turn of the year. "We have been monitoring XBB.1.5 since mid-November, and its frequency has doubled roughly every week," explains Richard Neher, head of the research group Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was already concerned about the new coronavirus variant on Wednesday. The variant discovered in October is as easily transferrable as none of the previously known variants, it said. According to the available genetic analyzes of the virus, it is spreading primarily in the USA and Europe and has already been detected in 29 countries. It is a subgroup of the omicron variant that has been circulating since the end of 2021. XBB.1.5 is characterized by the F486P mutation in the so-called spike protein. This is the part of the virus that it uses to attach to human cells. 'This mutation may improve binding to the ACE2 receptor on human cells, but what exactly this means is not clear,' Neher notes.
So far there is no evidence that XBB.1.5 causes more severe diseases than other virus variants, says Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO program to combat the corona pandemic. However, the increase in XBB.1.5 cases makes it clear how important it is to “continue to monitor Covid-19 worldwide”. A risk analysis is in progress and will be published shortly.