Scientists explain what we should expect as COVID variants XBB, BQ.1 spread in Europe and Asia

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ByLuz Pena via KGO logo
Saturday, October 22, 2022
Scientists explain what to expect with COVID variants XBB, BQ.1
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U.S. scientists explain what we should expect as COVID-19 variants XBB, BQ.1 are spreading in Europe and Asia.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Infectious diseases experts are keeping a close eye on multiple COVID-19 variants that have resulted in a spike in cases in both Europe and Asia.

For several weeks, experts have noticed a peak in COVID cases in Europe and Asia. The majority point to variants XBB and BQ.1. Scientists in the U.S. believe that's our warning sign.

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"XBB has been spreading really rapidly in Singapore where it has overtaken BA5," said Nadia Roan, PhD, and added, "They are both of high concern because they are highly transmissible."

The CDC is already attributing 5.7% of cases in the U.S. to the BQ.1 variant and forty-seven sequences to XBB according to data from an international research organization that tracks these strains.

What makes them different from other strains? Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, Nadia Roan explains: "They have mutated their surface protein in a way so that the antibodies, solicited by either prior infection or by vaccination, they don't work as well essentially against them. So that is why they are so highly transmissible."

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University of California San Francisco's infectious diseases specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi believes we will see more cases in the U.S. but she is staying hopeful.

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"I would look to the U.K. We saw cases go up about four weeks ago. Come down, not very high of cases. Severe disease, hospitalizations remained flat," said Dr. Gandhi.

Luz Pena: "What is your projection? How will the next COVID-19 wave look like here?"

Dr. Monica Gandhi: "I think that we are going to see increased cases. Meaning mild infections. Right now, we are in a COVID lull. Right now we are getting more influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. Then COVID will take on the role of causing mild infections."

Gandhi doesn't believe we will see an increase in hospitalizations in the U.S. but advises getting the latest booster equipped to fight omicron strains.