Boosters promoted as subvariant Kraken rears head
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In the face of the most contagious COVID-19 subvariant yet, Manitobans need to get up-to-date on booster shots and wear masks to protect young children from respiratory viruses, the president of Doctors Manitoba says.
No cases of XBB.1.5 (unofficially nicknamed Kraken, after the mythological sea beast) have yet been confirmed in Manitoba, but lab testing is limited and the current state of Canada’s wastewater detection of COVID-19 can’t precisely identify the Omicron subvariant.
The lack of widespread testing and data reporting make it difficult to know what’s already spreading in Manitoba, Dr. Candace Bradshaw said Thursday. “I think right now, all everyone can do is just make sure that they’re getting vaccinated.”
Approximately 18 per cent of eligible Manitobans have received a bivalent COVID-19 booster since the shots rolled out in September.
“Which is below the Canadian average, so it would be nice to boost that number up,” Bradshaw said, particularly among younger adults and children — two groups that have had lower uptake compared with older Manitobans.
“This is a refresher and this is a warning to say there’s something new out there, it is way more transmissible than any other variant we’ve ever seen, so take it seriously. Don’t take steps backwards, don’t interrupt your life again, and just get the vaccine.”
The variant appears to be causing mild infections, but because it’s so contagious and Manitoba’s health-care system is already fragile, a surge of new COVID-19 infections that cause even a few additional ICU admissions could easily overwhelm hospitals, Bradshaw said.
“So even though most people will get away with a mild infection, we don’t have the ability to manage much more than we’re already managing right now in our hospitals.”
The youngest are most at risk of hospitalization because of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is still a primary reason for visits and admission to local hospitals.
All of the patients admitted to Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital last week were babies or toddlers, with 28 hospitalized. Several babies (only a few months old) are among the pediatric intensive care patients suffering respiratory symptoms, Shared Health announced Wednesday.
There’s no vaccine for RSV, but prevention advice is the same as for COVID-19, Bradshaw said. It’s even more important to wear a mask and avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces — particularly to protect infants and toddlers who can’t wear masks themselves.
“A lot of adults will get RSV, but it will just (show up as) a very minor cold, and transmitting that to a baby or a young child who’s at risk for more severe symptoms is so preventable.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.