A new variant of Covid XBB.1.5, dubbed “Kraken”, has been registered in the UK. This Omicron sub-variant is causing an increase in cases in the US and experts say it’s worth keeping an eye on. Kraken is currently believed to cause symptoms similar to previous strains of Omicron; here’s what to look for.
While it is still too early to confirm the exact symptoms that the new variant causes, telltale signs are currently thought to be similar to previous strains of Omicron.
Health experts and scientists are currently monitoring the new sub-variant to determine if it gives rise to certain symptoms.
But Martin Michaelis, a professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, told FactCheck that “there is no indication” that the symptoms of XBB.1.5 are different from those caused by other Omicron sub-options.
This means that less traditional symptoms – such as a sore throat and a runny nose – may be common as Kraken spreads across the UK.
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When Omicron first appeared in 2021, it established itself as a Covid variant that causes less typical symptoms, making coughing and loss of smell less common.
The Zoe Covid Study app, which tracks the dominant symptoms of Covid through its users, continues to track the most common symptoms in the UK.
According to their latest data for the 30 days prior to December 5, “major” symptoms included:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Cough without sputum
- Cough with phlegm
- Hoarse voice
- Muscle pain
- Altered sense of smell.
In addition, the NHS states that Omicron symptoms may also include high fever or chills, new and continuous cough, change in taste or smell, fatigue, and stomach symptoms.
Is Kraken the dominant strain in the UK?
Currently there are only reports of the strain circulating in the UK, but there is no certainty yet.
According to figures from the Sanger Institute in Cambridge for the week ending Saturday 17 December, one in 25 cases of Covid in the UK was caused by XBB.1.5.
However, the data was based on only nine samples, so a larger dataset is needed to get a clearer picture.
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The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that approximately one in 20 people contracted Covid during the Christmas holidays.
Cases are estimated to have doubled in December when the XBB.1.5 variant of the Kraken began roaming the UK.
Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: “The balance of probabilities is that XBB.1.5 will make waves here later this month, but we can’t be sure.”
Is the Kraken variant more dangerous than other Omicron strains?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called Covid XBB.1.5 the “most contagious” variant, but it appears to be as mild as its predecessor Omicron and its other sub-variants.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19, said at a press conference on Wednesday: “This is the most transmissible sub-option that has been found.
“The reason for this is mutations within… this sub-variant of Omicron, allowing this virus to attach itself to a cell and multiply easily.
“And we are concerned about its growth advantage, in particular in some countries in Europe and the US in North America, especially in the northeastern United States, where XBB.1.5 has quickly replaced other circulating options.
“We are concerned about how contagious it is … and the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it will have to change.”