‘Kraken’ COVID subvariant could make up nearly 25% of Ontario cases this week

How quickly is the ‘Kraken’ subvariant spreading in Ontario? Melissa Duggan on the start of the XBB.1.5 covid wave.

A new highly-transmissible strain of COVID-19 appears to be taking off in Canada and is prompting fears that another pandemic wave is around the corner.

The World Health Organization has called the Omicron variant known as ‘Kraken,’ or XBB.1.5, the most transmissible subvariant yet.

New data released by Public Health Ontario projects Kraken will be responsible for nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of all new COVID cases in the province before the end of the week. As of three weeks ago, it was responsible for just two per cent.

Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, tells CityNews the new subvariant is unique compared to previous versions of the virus.

“It’s because of one particular property,” he says. “It is really, really transmissible. Looks like the most transmissible version of COVID so far.”

Estimated daily prevalence (%) by COVID strain in Ontario

Doctors believe Kraken is more contagious because of its ability to bind to receptors more easily than other strains.

“The growth advantage it has is significant over other variants,” Deonandan says. “It takes less of it to get you infected, and therefore to get you sick.”

There is no data to indicate Kraken causes more severe illness despite it being more contagious. Deonandan says the best way to prevent a serious infection is for individuals to make sure their vaccines are up to date.

“All signs point to the bivalent vaccine offering some kind of advantage,” he says.

Ontario no longer conducts widespread testing so it remains unclear exactly how many cases of the variant are currently circulating. According to available data, public health units in the province with the most cases of the new variant are Toronto, York Region, Niagara, and Haldimand-Norfolk.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says XBB.1.5 makes up approximately 2.5 per cent of all cases across the country.

Where did the name ‘Kraken’ come from?

As for the name, it was first coined by a University of Guelph researcher as a way to make people take notice of the strain.

Ryan Gregory dubbed the latest subvariant Kraken, the name of a Scandinavian mythological sea creature, as more people fell ill with XBB.1.5 in December.

Gregory says the group adopted monikers for previous Omicron subvariants — Gryphon (XBB), a creature that is a mix of a lion and an eagle and Hippogryph (XBB.1), a combination of Gryphon and a horse. Kraken is the latest addition to the XBB family of subvariants and is a combination of two earlier subtypes.

The World Health Organization used the Greek alphabet to categorize variants of concern: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1), Delta (B.1.617.2) and Omicron (B.1.1.529), which has spawned multiple descendent sublineages.

With files from CityNews reporter Kevin Misener and The Canadian Press

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