The ‘Gryphon’ family of COVID variants are off the hook and spreading across the globe—but their skin may be worse than their bite

You may remember the XBB variant that took Singapore by storm last fall-one of the most immune-avoidance yet. Called “Gryphon” by Canadian biology professor Ryan Gregory—who has a many more names like this for other variants-after the mythical merger of the eagle and the lion, it is less of a global player than before. Today its descendants are fighting for dominance around the world. Experts are keeping a close eye on the (also Gregory-monikered) “Kraken” XBB.1.5, due to its ability to grow at a rapid pace.

A recent report from India offers some relief, however. Of the 85 patients with XBB variants surveyed in Maharashtra, India, in the second half of 2022, most (88%) had symptoms, but most of them (79%) were able to cope with the infection at home , compared to a hospital. The study (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) also has good news about survival and symptoms.

The majority of patients (96%) survived, with only three deaths in the group, according to the study, published on January 6 in the Yale University-affiliated preprint repository medRxiv.

Fever was the most common symptom in the group, with almost three-quarters of XBB variant patients experiencing it. Runny nose, cough, sore throat, muscle pain, and fatigue/malaise are the second, third, fourth, and fifth most common, respectively. No XBB-variant patients experienced chest pain or skin rash. And few experience shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, or GI symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting.

XBB COVID variants cause “mild disease in India,” the authors wrote, referring to the XBB variant itself, as well as related variants such as XBB.1, XBB.2, XBB.3 , and XBB.5.

The study’s authors warn, however, that the variant has the potential to spread globally rapidly, given the mutations that allow it to escape immunity from prior infection and vaccination, and infect others more quickly. effective.

The symptoms were similar in all the COVID patients interviewed, including those with the BA.2-family, BA.5-family, and BQ.1 variants. Patients with BA.2.38, BA.2.75, and XBB-family variants, however, tend to experience headaches and breathing at a higher rate.

The majority—about 90%—of study participants were vaccinated, including XBB-family patients. Most XBB patients (76%) received two doses, and more than a fifth had an increase. Only four were not vaccinated. The high vaccination rate of study participants may have contributed to the generally mild presentation of XBB variants, the authors cautioned.

XBB is a recombinant, or combination, of two BA.2 variants: BA.2.75 and BA.2.10.1, according to the World Health Organization. The variant was first discovered in August and made headlines when it was spiked in Singapore this fall, although the country’s health minister noted that it seems to bring about a 30% lower risk of hospitalization compared to BA.5. Eventually XBB also became dominant in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other parts of Asia.

The XBB spinoff XBB.1.5, dubbed “Kraken,” was behind 18% of US COVID cases last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday. It is projected to fuel 28% of cases this week, making it the second most common variant in the US—and putting it on track to become the most dominant in the States, according to a January 5 memo from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

It is closely watched by experts because of its rapid growth. It is estimated that the number of sick people doubles every nine days, according to the European counterpart of the CDC.

It is not known whether the variant has contributed to the rise in hospitals in the northeastern US, where it is developing, WHO officials said last week. But experts say luck this week Kraken likely played at least a part in the region’s rise in hospitals—and that the rise may spread geographically, as is the case with the new variant trending up in the western states.

While it is too early to say definitively, XBB.1.5 is not thought to cause more severe disease. The World Health Organization will continue to call it Omicron and not give it a new Greek letter, officials said Wednesdayarguing that it was not different enough from other Omicron variants to warrant one.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:26 pm ET to include the correct variant nickname for XBB.

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