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4 cases of Omicron subvariant identified in Alberta

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The Alberta government says four cases of a contagious new subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 have been found here.

Officials confirmed the details of the new "Kraken" COVID-19 variant to CTV News on Wednesday.

According to the World Health Organization, the "Kraken" variant is the most contagious strain of COVID-19 scientists have witnessed.

"The Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is one of the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 to emerge and spread widely. It has come about through the fusion of two earlier BA.2 Omicron variants," said Charity Wallace, assistant director of communication for Alberta Health, in a statement.

Wallace says the province is "monitoring" the new strain and will work to manage cases as they are confirmed.

In the meantime, she says Albertans should take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from being infected by the new subvariant or any other respiratory illness circulating in Alberta.

"We encourage Albertans to stay up-to-date on their immunizations," she said.

"Wearing a mask, especially in crowded indoor settings, can help reduce the risk of becoming sick and help protect others from being exposed."

DETECTED IN OTHER PROVINCES

The news comes on the same day as B.C.'s top doctor confirmed the presence of the "Kraken" variant in 12 residents.

Dr. Bonnie Henry told CTV News in an exclusive interview that those individuals are in isolation because of the concern over the new strain.

"It is a concern. This virus changes, that's what we know," she said. "I expect we'll see some more but it's still a very small percentage, so we're not seeing that rapid takeoff that we've seen in some places in the U.S., for example."

HOW IT BEHAVES

Infectious disease experts say the new subvariant behaves similarly to prior versions of Omicron in terms of severity, yet early data shows it is more transmissible.

"We're going to see more breakthrough infections. A percentage of people that are vaccinated will contract this virus. The good news though is it does appear the vaccines continue to hold well against severe disease," said Craig Jenne from the University of Calgary.

He later added, "we can expect a large number of people to contract this variant. And in those cases, even a small percentage of people requiring medical attention will result in a large number of people."

Waste water tracking data indicates increased activity in the Omicron sublineage, but leaders with the University of Calgary research team say further testing is required to pinpoint XBB.1.5.

Alberta Health is expected to release updated COVID-19 data on Friday.

(With files from CTV Vancouver)

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