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What to know as new COVID-19 variant spreads in Georgia

According to the CDC, XBB 1.5 is more contagious than the previous variants.

MACON, Ga. — A new COVID-19 variant is trickling its way across the United States. It's called XBB 1.5. It's the sub-lineage of the SARS-CoV-2 lineage XBB. As of December 31, XBB 1.5 accounted for more than 40% of cases in the United States. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Jennifer Hoffman with Piedmont Macon Medical Center says to avoid getting this variant, you should keep your COVID vaccinations up to date. 

"It is highly-transmissible. I think it's important for people to know it's very contagious. It's important to realize that all our prior measures like masking, which I realize everyone is very sick of, but it still works. It's still very helpful in reducing your risk. It's not a silver bullet, but it help -- both you masking and people around you masking," Dr.Hoffman said. 

The new variant originated in Asia and was found in October 2022. It makes up about three-quarters of cases in the northeast and 15%-20% in the southeast. Dr. Hoffman says this variant is more transmissible than earlier variants. She says it has a certain degree of "immune escape."

"Meaning that the vaccinations don't work as well against it. Now to be very clear, the vaccinations are still your best protection against hospitalization, death, and other serious outcomes," Hoffman said.

According to Yale Medicine, the Omicron subvariants are more easily spreadable than the others. The original strain of Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta strain. Dr. Hoffman says there are steps you can take before you get severely sick. 

"Paxlovid, which is the pill against COVID, is still extremely effective against this variant and against all the known variants," Dr. Hoffman said.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of COVID, talk with your doctor, get tested, and wear a mask when possible. You can go to your local pharmacy to get your COVID shot.

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