That old familiar dread is back: New COVID variant, new worries.

This time, the World Health Organization is raising concern over COVID subvariant XBB.1.5, which has seen an increase in the United States of late. ABC News reports hospitalizations are rising in the Northeast U.S., with the subvariant making up most of those.


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Should you be anxious over the latest subvariant? And why are some people calling it Kraken? Here’s what to know right now:

What’s the difference with subvariant XBB.1.5?

According to CNBC, the COVID technical lead for the WHO, Maria Van Kerkhove, said officials are worried about how quickly XBB.1.5 is spreading, especially in the Northeast. “It is the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet,” she said in a press conference.

Fortune adds that the subvariant raised alarm bells at the end of 2022 when the number of XBB.1.5 cases rose from 1% of all cases at the beginning of December to 41% after three weeks.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms appear to be close to those of previous versions of the Omicron variant that were prevalent last winter – which means more cold-like symptoms, like runny nose, sore throat and congestion. Fortune reports the reason is that it’s basically descended from last year’s Omicron, which also explains why symptoms seen early on in the pandemic, like loss of taste or smell, aren’t occurring as often here.

USA TODAY adds the symptoms can range into shortness of breath and low oxygen, and medical attention is warranted for those.

How do keep from catching this subvariant?

It’s starting to sound like an old saw, but keeping up to date with your vaccine and boosters is the best prevention, according to the Mayo Clinic among others.

In addition, wearing a well-fitted mask and avoiding close indoor spaces can reduce the risk of infection.

Can I catch COVID again after having it once?

Though you’ll have some protection from COVID after catching it, that doesn’t mean you’ll be immune to it forever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reinfections of COVID do happen. 

What do I do if I test positive?

If you test positive for COVID, medical officials, including the CDC, say you should isolate for at least 5 days if you are experiencing symptoms, and not end your isolation until 24 hours after your symptoms abate. If you are not experiencing symptoms, you should isolate for 5 days, and wear a mask for 10 days, in order to keep those who are at high risk of getting sick from catching the virus.

Reaching out to a medical professional (by phone, text, etc.) is also recommended if you have symptoms, in case medicines like Paxlovid need to be considered.

Why “Kraken” though?

Some, especially in the Twitterverse, have taken to calling XBB.1.5 the “Kraken” subvariant. The name comes from biology professor T. Ryan Gregory of the University of Guelph in Canada, according to Fortune.

Gregory wanted to give this subvariant a name with more oomph than XBB.1.5 or even Omicron to better communicate info to the public, and chose the name of a sea monster from norse mythology. And apparently, he has other mythological creatures, like Chiron and Basilisk.


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Whatever the reason, it has taken off on social media with the #Kraken hashtag.

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