‘Kraken’ COVID variant more transmissible than others, say experts

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XBB 1.5, a new COVID-19 variant, is quickly spreading throughout DuPage County, according to local health experts.

“Previous variants that were circulating over the summer and fall have diminished in proportion,” said Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control and prevention at Naperville’s Edward Hospital. “The XBB 1.5 is concerning because it seems to be more immune evasive than the others. Cases are gradually increasing and becoming more and more prevalent each week since early December. Right now, that’s about 30% of cases nationally.”

Increased Hospitalizations

Nicknamed “Kraken”, the strain has become more prevalent each week since early December, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“We’ve seen an increase in cases and hospitalizations through the month of December,” said Pinsky. “We’re seeing more of a gradual increase, a 20% increase in the number of infections and hospitalizations, enough to drive up the COVID community level to the high range.”

Pinsky said Edward Hospital has had no issue managing the recent uptick in patients. Most hospitalizations are seen in those 65 years and older.

“This time around we’re seeing more elderly and vulnerable patients,” said Pinsky. “But not as severe as infections because most people have been exposed to this virus either through natural infection or through past vaccination.”

Kraken’s Impact

The ‘Kraken’ variant is a combination of two different BA.2 strains, resulting in a much more contagious variant than its predecessors, though experts say it does not seem to cause more severe illness than any other strains.

“This new variant has properties that allow escape from immunity, previous infections and vaccinations,” said Pinsky. “There was a big change a year ago with the emergence of the first Omicron variant that had a large immune escape. Everything we’ve seen since then has been spin-off variants. So we’re not seeing the global change that we saw with the first Omicron strain.”

Though the “Kraken” strain differs from previous COVID variants, Pinsky still recommends people take similar precautions when dealing with the contagious virus to lessen its impact.

“We still recommend that everyone get an updated booster if you haven’t, and observe other precautions like wearing masks in public and staying away from people who are sick.”

Naperville News 17’s Will Payne reports.

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