Norton Healthcare gives insight on the new XBB1.5 COVID variant

Norton Healthcare is putting the warning out for the new COVID strain they say is highly contagious.
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 6:41 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A new variant of COVID-19 is rapidly spreading and has medical experts worried it could be one of the most viral variants yet.

On Wednesday, Norton Healthcare hosted a session to discuss the imminent XBB1.5 COVID variant and how we can minimize the spread.

Just when it seems virologists figure out one strand of this mutating virus, another strand like the XBB1.5 pops up.

While this new strand has yet to be confirmed in Kentucky, Norton Healthcare said they want people locally to be vigilant.

The XBB1.5 variant is a mouthful and it keeps getting harder to keep track of all these mutations, but Norton Children’s Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Kristina Bryant is trying to help everyone understand what it all means.

“It seems to be a combination of two earlier omicron variants,” Bryant said. “Two omicron B2 variants came together to make XBB1.5. And the reason this is in the news is because it seems to be spreading quickly.”

As of Jan. 7, the CDC said the new XBB-1.5 variant makes up about 72 percent of new cases in the Northeast U.S. and more than 27 percent countrywide.

However, experts said those numbers do not mean this strand is making people more sick.

“The data doesn’t seem to indicate more hospitalizations or more severity of illness, maybe more cases,” Norton Healthcare Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Paul Schulz said. “If you look at what I call heat maps around the country where this variant is more prevalent, you see more cases.”

Schulz said he has noticed a lot of people are avoiding the vaccine and boosters, but both he and Bryant said the bivalent boosters will protect against the most severe outcomes.

“In terms of impact on the society, the thing that would probably be the biggest is if one of the variants became resistant to one of these oral treatments,” Schulz said. “Which is probably keeping a lot of people out of the hospital.”

Norton Healthcare said they have yet to see an uptick in hospitalizations, but have noticed an uptick in other counties in the state.

As of Wednesday, Norton Healthcare said they have 57 patients with COVID and UofL Hospital said they have 51 people hospitalized with COVID. Eight of those cases are in the ICU and five are on ventilators.