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New COVID-19 Variant XBB.1.5: An Interview with Dr. William Valenti

by Alexa Styliadis

XBB.1.5 is the ‘most transmissible’ yet, experts say

We sat down with Dr. William Valenti to learn more about XBB.1.5, symptoms, how to protect yourself, and more.

Three years after COVID-19 first emerged, a new variant, XBB.1.5, is quickly becoming the dominant strain in parts of the United States.

XBB.1.5 is being called “the most transmissible” (contagious) omicron variant to date. It increased from barely 2% of U.S. cases in December 2022 to around 30% the first week of January 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 70 percent of cases in the Northeast are believed to be XBB.1.5.

Q: Can vaccinated people get XBB.1.5?
A: Yes. What’s important here is that the new COVID booster, called the “bivalent booster” (pronounced “buy-VAY-lent”) is 95% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID.

The XBB.1.5 variant is more contagious that earlier variants. So far, the new bivalent booster does a good job of preventing serious disease.

Q: How can I protect myself from getting XBB.1.5?
A: Get the new “bivalent booster” as soon as possible. Previous boosters lose their effect over time, so it’s important to be “up-to-date” with vaccines.

In addition to staying up to date on boosters, don’t assume you can’t get sick again if your last shot or bout with COVID was more than several months ago. Wear high-quality masks and avoid crowds to avoid infections that can still cause mild illness, disrupt plans, and lead to long-term health complications.

Also, get the current flu shot at the same time. Both vaccines can be given together safely.

Q: What are symptoms like for XBB.1.5?
A: Pretty much the same as symptoms with earlier variants. For example: fever, cough, cold, or flu-like symptoms.

If you develop symptoms, do a rapid at-home COVID test. We offer these tests at Trillium Health for free! If the test is positive, we have antiviral drugs that are effective. Treatment makes people feel better faster and treated people spread less virus.

Q: I thought COVID was over?
A: As long as people are not up to date with vaccine, we will have COVID infections and new variants. With more people vaccinated, the virus has no place to go and we slow down or stop virus spread. This is called Herd Immunity.

Final thought: COVID isn’t over. When more people are vaccinated, the virus can’t spread. It has no place to go!


Written by Dr. William Valenti, Senior VP for Strategic Advancement, Chief of Innovation, Co-Founder, and Staff Physician

Stop by any Trillium Health location to pick up a free at-home COVID test! Learn more about COVID here. Any questions? Call us at 585.545.7200.