Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 detected in Philippines

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Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 detected in Philippines
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab. Image captured and colorized at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana.

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine health authorities have detected the first confirmed case of the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is said to be the most contagious variant of the virus causing COVID-19.

The Department of Health said in its latest COVID-19 biosurveillance report that 196 out of the 1,078 samples sequenced last week were classified as XBB, including one case tagged as XBB.1.5.

World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove earlier said that XBB.1.5—an offshoot of the Omicron XBB subvariant—is the “most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet.”

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control classified XBB.1.5 as a variant of interest.

Estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the Omicron subvariant now accounts for 66.4% of cases there from January 29 to February 4.

“According to the rapid risk assessment done by the WHO, there is moderate-strength evidence for increased risk of transmission and immune escape,” the DOH said.

“However, currently available evidence for XBB.1.5 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and/or clinical manifestations compared to the original Omicron variant,” it added.

XBB.1.5 is still reported under XBB by the WHO and will remain classified under Omicron until there is enough evidence showing its virus characteristics are significantly different.

Philippine health authorities also detected 454 cases of Omicron subvariant BA.2.3.20, 79 cases of XBC, 28 cases of BA.5, and seven cases of BA.2.75. One hundred sixty samples were classified as other Omicron sublineages.

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