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New COVID strain is 'more transmissible than any other variant,' and likely already in Bexar County

The XBB.1.5 strain now accounts for a quarter of all U.S. cases after surfacing around Thanksgiving.

SAN ANTONIO — In late November, the COVID-19 omicron variant XBB.1.5 represented only 1% of U.S. cases, according to the CDC. Five weeks later, it represents 27.6% of national cases. 

Metro Health Director Anita Kurian told KENS 5 that both vaccinated individuals and people who have been infected by COVID-19 before are in danger of being infected with the new strain. 

"You are more likely to get infected especially if you are unvaccinated, and because of the high transmission rates we expect breakthrough infections with this variant as well," Kurian said. "People who already got COVID-19 are also likely to be reinfected with XBB.1.5."

The variant has already been detected in the Houston area and Kurian believes it is likely already in Bexar County. 

"Based on what's happening nationally and statewide, it is safe to assume it is circulating in our community as well," she said. 

Kurian said vaccines will still help people avoid severe disease, and that's especially important for people with compromised immune systems. The latest vaccines were developed for multiple omicron variants, including BA.2. Kurian said XBB.1.5 is a derivative of BA.2, meaning antibodies created by the vaccine are still effective.  

Fortunately, healthy individuals are less likely to get severe disease. Kurian said the new COVID-19 variant will closely resemble the flu and will include a cough, headaches, body aches and fever. 

People who come down with those symptoms will still need to take a COVID test. 

"It's very difficult to diagnose just based on the symptoms," Kurian said. 

Immunocompromised individuals can see much worse symptoms, though influenza is also dangerous for that group, as well as for young and very old individuals.



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