March 20, 2023

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The XBB.1.5 subvariant is marginal in Quebec

(Montreal) For about a week, US health officials have said that the Omicron XPP.1.5 sub-variant is the primary strain causing the spread of Covid-19 in the US. However, only a few cases are still listed in Quebec.

There is still no trace of the XBB.1.5 subvariant in Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) online data, and we may have to wait a few more weeks to observe its progress.

According to information provided by the medical director of the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec (LSPQ), T.D Judith Faffert found seven cases of XBB.1.5 by sequencing samples in December.

Of these, five cases were linked to community spread of the virus, and two were from travelers.

According to DD Fafard, the XBB.1.5 subvariant accounted for approximately 0.5% of all SARS CoV-2 infection cases during Christmas week in Quebec. We say “approximate” because statistical data below the 2.5% threshold are considered unreliable enough to be published by INSPQ.

Additionally, only variants that reach at least 1% prevalence are displayed in the table available on the INSPQ website. So, we should still not see the popular XBB.1.5 roll out during the next data update next week.

“Already, the table is a bit indigestible, so if we add less than 1% varieties, it will be too much”, explains the expert. The most recent data is for the week of December 11-17 and has 37 different subcategories in circulation.

A microbiologist-epidemiologist estimates that Quebec may have a few weeks to go before seeing XBB.1.5 replace the current dominant strain, BQ.1.1.

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“We have the same variants that were circulating in the United States before XPB.1.5 took hold, so we can expect our variants to (replace). We don’t know how quickly that will happen,” predicted the director of the Public Health Laboratory.

“But it’s still worrisome to see how quickly it’s replacing other strains in the U.S.,” says the infectious disease expert.

From what has been seen so far of subvariant XBB.1.5, this is the most transmissible mutation of the virus, as it seems to evade the immune system in its host more easily and it adheres better to cell receptors.

However, there is nothing to confirm that this strain is associated with more severe disease. Although there has been a sharp increase in hospitalizations in the U.S., it remains to be seen whether the increase is related to holiday crowds, a general increase in the number of infections, or the severity of the illness.