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Highly transmissible 'Kraken' variant found in Simcoe Muskoka

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Cases of a new, highly-transmissible Omicron subvariant have risen in Ontario and are starting to show signs of appearing in Simcoe Muskoka.

According to the latest COVID-19 genomic surveillance report from Public Health Ontario released Tuesday, the XBB.1.5 subvariant is expected to account for 22.2 per cent of COVID-19 cases by the end of this week.

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), one case back in December can be linked back to the XBB.1.5 subvariant - otherwise known as the 'Kraken.'

"Approximately 20 to 22 per cent of cases in Ontario are due to this variant, so it's increased substantially from what it was in December, about two per cent at the end of the month," said Dr. Charles Gardner, Medical officer of Health for the SMDHU.

"It's far easier to catch and has become the dominant variant across North America," Dr. Gardner added.

Health officials report data shows some signs that the Kraken subvariant is within York Region.

"It is here. It's in the low digits of per cent," said Dr. Barry Pakes, York Region Medical Officer of Health.

"It is highly transmissible, and what we know about XBB.1.5 is that it has the potential to evade certain parts of our immune system, despite our anti-bodies from vaccines or having COVID-19," Dr. Pakes said.

Evidence doesn't suggest the Kraken subvariant poses any more of a threat than previous COVID-19 variants, but its high transmission rates have the potential for straining an already overburdened health care system.

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