What is the new XBB strain of Covid - and how can you spot the symptoms?

xbb strain
What is the XBB Covid variant that's emerged?Grace Cary - Getty Images

By now, we all know the coronavirus has a tendency to morph as it spreads, creating different strains and variants along the way - with differing symptoms and varying infection rates. We've had the dreaded Omicron XE, the Centaurus and now, experts are weighing in on the 'XBB' Covid-19 variation, warning that sensationalist news reports (which have referred to it as the 'nightmare' strain) are 'irresponsible'.

What is the XBB Covid variant?

While the new XBB variant, which is making its way through Southeast Asia, has seen case numbers double in a day in the likes of Singapore, those in the medical field are saying it isn't anything especially new, although it does appear to be "immune evasive" against some vaccines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a statement on Wednesday saying the XBB variant has been detected in 26 countries in total, but did not say specifically which ones. However, we do know that a small number of cases have already been observed in England.

"[Referring to it as the 'nightmare' strain] is irresponsible reporting because it's impossible to know what all these variants mean," UC Berkeley infectious disease expert, John Swartzberg, told the San Francisco Chronicle this week.

"We are seeing a slew of new variants that are using a similar approach to survive — they are finding ways to evade the way we get immunity from vaccines and previous infection with changes on the spike protein," he added. "XBB is no different from the others."

Thankfully, other authority figures have stressed that at the moment "there is no evidence that XBB causes more severe illness" when looking at Singapore as a case study. This, it's believed, is due to a high uptake of booster vaccines in the sovereign island country.

It's thought that this particular strain of Covid-19 is combination of two different strains of Omicron, and the WHO have implied that XBB looks as though it is the most antibody-evasive variant so far, something they've gleaned through "laboratory evidence", but that the bivalent boosters (which use a formula targeting both the original Covid strain and Omicron variations) have shown promising results.

There are also 'spin off strains' of XBB, known as XBB.1, XBB.2, and XBB.3.

What are the symptoms of the XBB variant?

It's reported that the symptoms of the XBB variant are similar to its Omicron cousins:

  • Cough

  • Cold

  • Low-level fever

  • Sore throat

  • Body aches

For those who have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, symptoms may be more severe.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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