The extra strain respiratory viruses have placed on the NHS is not guaranteed to lessen based on the data snapshot taken today. The good news is that COVID and flu infections appear to have peaked, which is good news for a struggling NHS.
The respite might not last long, however, as people start going back to work and school this week, according to officials. The UK Health Security Agency today made public the first information on influenza and COVID infections since the week before Christmas.
It shows that over the Christmas season, flu-related hospital admissions reached an extremely high level, or “very high.” However, flu admissions had quickly returned to “medium” levels by January 1st. Admissions to COVID also decreased.
The UKHSA says that while the sharp decline in flu cases may simply reflect data anomalies related to the holiday season, it more likely means that the very rapid rise in both viruses has, at least temporarily, leveled off.
Despite spending time with family during the holidays, there will be more normal mixing in the workplace and schools going forward, which could increase infections. Therefore, the data snapshot from today does not guarantee that the additional strain respiratory viruses have placed on the NHS will diminish. Then there is a new variant of COVID.
Concern has been raised about the Omicron XBB variant, which has spread widely throughout Europe and the northeastern United States. However, it doesn’t seem to be taking off as quickly in the UK so far.
On December 20th, XBB represented 5% of cases; last week, it represented 7% of cases. However, with only a few hundred samples of the variant being collected so far, each week, it is difficult for authorities to estimate the variant’s actual growth rate since regular testing was discontinued.
However, CH.1.1, which first appears in the data above, has joined XBB (in green). It first appeared in the spring of last year and is believed to have come from an earlier Omicron variant here in the UK called BA.2.75.
The interest in CH.1.1 remained at such low levels. However, it began to rise sharply in recent weeks and now accounts for 18% of UK cases. There is no proof that the XBB and CH.1.1 viruses cause more severe disease, as there have never been any Omicron offspring.
Although they could still be a threat to a failing health service due to their growth advantage. The majority of COVID case spikes have been connected to the development of a new variant as it spreads to displace the pre-existing dominant strain. That would put an extremely unwelcome source of additional pressure on hospitals and care facilities this winter.
Insights from WHO
The “recombinant” new strain of Omicron known as “Kraken” was first discovered in the US in October and came to public attention in the new year when it was revealed that 40% of infections in the nation were caused by the variant, according to the World Health Organization.
Perhaps as a result of how well the image of a mythical monster matches a devilishly evolving virus, the moniker “Kraken” has quickly gained popularity online. Evolutionary biologist Professor T. Ryan Gregory appears to have made the initial suggestion for the COVID variant on Twitter.
In light of the fact that the WHO was discontinuing the use of new names under their system this year, he wrote, “some of us decided that we needed nicknames for variants worth watching.”
For variants that are being discussed outside of technical discussions, mythological creature names have been used. The Kraken is a multi-tentacled sea monster that first appeared in Scandinavian folklore and gained notoriety for destroying entire ships and dragging sailors to their deaths. As it is a sub-variant of Omicron, XBB.1.5 lacks a distinct Greek letter.
According to Professor Gregory, you can think of the Greek letters as groups of species, with Omicron standing in for “mammals” and Delta for “birds.”Added him: “Not everything is “still just Omicron,” though. Although both whales and bats are mammals, their biology is very different.”
The Pango method of naming (Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak) gave XBB.1.5 its name, and the X denotes that it is a recombinant variant. This is a cross between two variants that develops when both infect a person simultaneously and combine to create a new variant.
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