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New COVID variant is more contagious than previous strains according to CDC

Variant XBB.1.5 is very contagious, meaning everyone is at risk even if you've already been infected.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) encourages you to get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations as a new subvariant of concern emerges. COVID-19 vaccine and the new bivalent boosters are important for your maximum protection as the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 overtakes other Omicron subvariants which were dominant in the fall. Medical Officer Dr. Wes Stubblefield says that although cases are low in Alabama, there is still a cause for concern

"It's still a low percentage, although we feel that that is probably underreported," Dr. Stubblefield shares. "We are seeing a current wave of COVID 19 infections with more hospitalizations and more case numbers since early December and we would assume that that at least some part of those is caused by this new variant."

The new strain accounts for about 40 percent of cases in the U.S. and is now the main subvariant in the Northeastern states, where it accounts for an estimated 75 percent of cases.

Only about one-third of Americans ages 65 and older are up to date with COVID-19 vaccine and boosters. The best protection for children and adults ages 6 months and older is to be vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine and booster.

"As this virus continues to mutate, it's hard to know what that will mean for the future," Dr. Stubblefield shares." We don't know at this point whether or not the vaccine protects against infection, but we do know that it continues to protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death."

Related: COVID hospitalizations in children continue to rise

At this point, XBB.1.5 is not known to be more severe than other variants, and vaccination can help prevent serious illness and hospitalization. A decrease in transmission of the virus means fewer opportunities for it to mutate, which can help prevent other contagious variants from emerging.

"COVID activity, the levels are high on the CDC's map for almost all counties in Alabama," Dr. Stubblefield cautions. " COVID is continuing to make people sick and it's continuing to cause people to die, especially people that are at high risk, so what we want people to know is that COVID is out there and the best way to prevent COVID severe disease is vaccination."

Information about recommended COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for individuals is available at the following website: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html

Related: COVID Cases in Alabama continue to rise

To find COVID-19 vaccination locations near you, search vaccines.gov, text your zip code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.

In addition to vaccines, the following measures can help protect you from getting infected with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Wear masks in areas of high community transmission
  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Stay home if you are sick

If you test positive for COVID-19, treatments are available that can reduce your chances of hospitalization and death. Do not delay, because treatment must be started within days after you first develop symptoms to be effective. Medications for COVID-19 are available through your healthcare provider, health clinic and pharmacies.

For more information, go to alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19

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