Health officials say 12 cases of a new subvariant of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus strain have been detected in British Columbia.
Nicknamed the "Kraken variant," the XBB.1.5 strain has been quickly spreading across parts of the United States, most notably New York.
As of Wednesday (Jan. 4), a total of 12 cases of XBB.1.5 have been detected in B.C. in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Vancouver Is Awesome.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported that five cases had been detected in the province from November 2022 up until last week. The remaining cases were detected through whole genome sequencing surveillance this week.
The ministry notes that these cases represent a "small proportion" of the subvariants that have been detected in B.C. Additionally, the numbers do not reflect all of the positive cases in the province because PCR tests are needed to sequence the COVID-19 virus to identify variants.
PCR testing is used primarily in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, to identify people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19.
Why is the Kraken variant of particular interest?
Since it has acquired additional mutations that enhance its ACE2 binding properties, XBB1.5 is able to "spread more easily," according to the ministry spokesperson, who added that this "does not mean it is more severe."
Dr. Sarah Otto, a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) told V.I.A. that scientists haven't noticed a significant change in symptoms with XBB.1.5 but it is showing a "transmission advantage."
With this advantage, the new sub-variant is expected to continue the turnover in variants that have led to "high and fairly constant levels" of COVID-19 in Canada across the past six months.
People should continue to follow the province's long-standing COVID-19 advice, such as getting vaccinated with all recommended doses to prevent severe illness.
In addition, continue to take these measures to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses:
- Stay at home if you feel unwell and stay away from people at higher risk of serious illness if you have symptoms.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow.
- Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms or are recovering from a respiratory illness.
- Clean your hands frequently with soap and water or with hand sanitizer
Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a news release that the province will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world while working with its federal partners to ensure the public is protected and informed.
With a file from the Canadian Press.