Covid-19: explosion of cases, screenings… after China, the spread of a new variant in the United States worries

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After China, USA? Across the Atlantic, the country is currently facing an increase in cases of pollution. This is a new variant, XBB.1.5. La Dépêche du Midi takes stock.

Checks at airports, mandatory masks on planes… The outbreak of the epidemic, which is currently affecting China, has triggered a real “shock” from many governments around the world, which have not hesitated to draw an arsenal of measures. . This is especially the case in France: screening tests near airports, mandatory wearing of a mask for Chinese travelers coming to France… To deal with a possible variant – potentially more contagious – from China.

Also read:
Covid-19: should we fear the appearance of new variants with the end of the restrictive measures in China?

But should we also be concerned about what is happening in the West, in the United States? The country appears to be once again facing a new variant of SARS-CoV-2. The XBB.1.5 strain represents more than 40% of new cases of Covid-19 contamination in the United States (ie, 20% more in one week). In certain areas of the northern United States, such as in the state of New York, this new strain has even become the majority (it represents almost 70% of cases).

“Perhaps the worst variant”

In this post-holiday period, the US health authorities fear a new epidemic outbreak in the country: “We believe that this variant will spread to all regions of the country”, explains Dr. Barbara Mahon, Director of the Division of Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many researchers have expressed their concern about this new variant: “Ironically, XBB.1.5 may be the worst variant we face today”, commented Dr. Michael Osterholm, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota, from the news agency Reuters. XBB-like variants have been detected in several dozen countries, including India and China.

Also read:
Covid-19: Could the health situation in China worsen the lack of medicine in France?

According to the first findings, the XBB.1.5 variant has a certain level of immune leakage: in practice, one of its mutations allows this strain to more easily contaminate the cells of our body. In other words, XBB.1.5 may well be particularly polluting. So far, there is no indication that it is more aggressive than its predecessors, although a 3.6% increase in hospitalizations was recorded in the last weeks of December in the US.

Also read:
MAINTENANCE. Covid-19: “China is a real variant factory”, says virologist Étienne Decroly

Compared to China, however, the situation is still different across the Atlantic: In the United States, the population has been in contact with the virus in recent years. In China, the population has until now been subject to a “Zero Covid” policy. But since the lifting of the restrictive measures in December, it is the first time that the virus has circulated so much in the place. Since the beginning of this pandemic, researchers have demonstrated on many occasions that the emergence of new virus strains, sometimes more infectious and more dangerous, was closely linked to the free circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in an area. As it spreads, the virus undergoes mostly small changes in its genome, but which can have a direct impact on its properties. In short, the greater the viral circulation, the more these modifications are multiplied.

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