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The new strain is thought to be responsible for 40% of all infections in the US and has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being ‘the most transmissible sub-variant which has been detected yet’ as per Sky News.
The unusual nickname, evocative of a mythological creature, appears to have first been suggested on Twitter by evolutionary biologist Professor T. Ryan Gregory:
This year, some of us decided that we needed nicknames for variants worth watching, given that the WHO wasn't giving any new names under their system.
We've been using mythological creature names for variants that are being discussed outside of technical discussions.
The kraken is a many-tentacled sea monster originating in Scandinavian folklore that would destroy entire ships and send sailors to their death.
Since XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of Omicron it does not have a Greek letter of its own and gets its name through the Pango method of naming (Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak) and the X indicates it's a recombinant variant, as per Sky News.
The variant has been spreading extremely quickly around the US as epidemiologists say it has a big advantage over other dominant Omicron strains as it has an ability to evade immune system protection given by previous infections or vaccination. It also has a mutation on its spike protein which helps it bind to host cells better which could also be giving it an edge.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported, as per Politico:
There is a possibility that this variant could have an increasing effect on the number of COVID-19 cases in the EU/EEA, but not within the coming month as the variant is currently only present in the EU/EEA at very low levels.
The fear in the UK is that the same strain could cause havoc amidst an influenza and respiratory syncytial virus season that is already challenging and putting hospitals under pressure.
However, just because the virus is surging in the U.S. doesn't necessarily mean that it will spread to Europe with the same voracity, as ‘major differences in variant circulation have been observed between North America and Europe several times during the pandemic’ the ECDC explained.
- Sky News 'What is known about the XBB.1.5 COVID variant and what's behind the nickname 'kraken'?'
- Politico 'The Kraken COVID variant is coming — but not yet'