COVID's 'Kraken' emerges, new subvariant becomes dominant strain in Central Florida
A new COVID-19 subvariant is rising in Central Florida this winter season with the emergence of “The Kraken.”
Florida’s COVID numbers have risen dramatically since November with positivity case rates now at 13.7% and Orange County’s positivity rate at 14.1%, according to state data.
In the growing number of cases, Omicron subvariant XBB1.5, popularly known as Kraken, emerged as the dominant strain, possibly due to it being the most contagious strain of COVID-19 seen so far, according to the World Health Organization. Despite Kraken being more contagious, the subvariant doesn’t appear to bring any more severe infection than previous iterations of Omnicron, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Where did it come from?
The Kraken strain came to be as a result of a "recombination" of two other Omicron variants, meaning that at some point two subvariants infected one person, and traded genetic information with one another creating Kraken, said Dr. Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist.
"We see that happen with flu sometimes, and viruses will do this sometimes. So it's still an Omicron variant, but it's just a kind of different version that came from two other Omicron variants if you will. So we've got a whole Omicron family going on now," Prins said.
As for why the Kraken is so transmissible, is because of the way it evolved to hide from the body’s immunity and stick to cellular receptors, Prins said.
“It's almost like a person, knocking on your door. And, they're disguised as someone you know, right? And you let them in," she said. "This variant just happens to be very good at binding to sticking to those receptors. And so it's more likely to get taken into your cell, basically, than some of the other variants have.”
Do vaccines work on Kraken?
In short, yes. Vaccines still offer protection against Kraken, but the long answer is more nuanced.
Due to Kraken's mutations, the virus is able to spread to people more easily than in previous iterations due to being able to hide from the body's immunity cells, meaning that even vaccinated people can be infected but symptoms will likely be less severe, Prins said.
“Some variants of Omicron, you know, they make little changes every time. And so, every time we see that we start to worry a little bit more about whether or not the bivalent vaccine is going to work. And, you know, what we see is that there is still effectiveness of that vaccine," Prins said. "I think that's the thing that we need to remember and keep reminding people that there's a benefit to being vaccinated, even if, you know, it may not stop you from getting infected. It's so going to help prevent those serious cases of COVID-19.”
CDC data shows the country still averages about 4,000 deaths due to COVID a week, most of those deaths coming from the 65-years and older age category, with only about 15% of the population having received an updated booster dose.
"I'm still a proponent of doing that getting vaccinated and especially maybe timing those boosters so that when you see cases start to go up, well, it's a great time to go ahead and get that next booster," Prins said.