Gryphon variant, is it dangerous? Symptoms, vaccines, spread in China and Italy: here’s what we know

In China about nine thousand people die every day from the Covid. The British research company Airfinity estimates it, calculating that in a few days the deaths have doubled and that since December 1st they could have reached 100 thousand out of a total of over 18 million infections. And the forecasts are not encouraging: the peak of new cases is expected on January 13 with 3.7 million infections per day. A wave that worries and from which the West tries to defend itself, but to make everything more complicated is the fact that data from China are scarce or even zero.

Which variant is circulating in China?

It is impossible to give an answer, since the deposited and shared sequences are very few compared to the massive epidemic taking place in the country. From what is known, the types of viruses in circulation would all be under Omicron variants, therefore of a type of SARS-CoV-2 virus that has long been widespread in Europe and around the world. Vaccines and previous infections would therefore guarantee a certain degree of protection. Suspicions, however, focus on the sub-variant XBB.1.5, renamed Gryphon: it has been around since October and this could be one of the causes of the surge in Covid cases in China, together with the easing of restrictions. «If on the one hand it is true that the Beijing government has passed in a short time from a policy of severe containment to a sudden opening, on the other it is also true that the population has received a vaccine, Sinovac, with an administration equal at 241 doses per 100 inhabitants, equal to that of the United Kingdom », observes the virologist Francis Broccoli. According to which “something very important is happening, the number of deaths from Covid is uncontrollable and so far the possibility that one or more new variants are circulating has only been hinted at”.

Covid, the new peak from China and the government plan: virus sequencing and swabs. What we know about Gryphon

Threat Gryphon: symptoms

Experts are taking the sub-variants very seriously. There is no shortage of candidates, but at the moment the attention is focused on XBB.1.5, renamed Gryphon, which is the result of the recombination of two other Omicron subvariants: BA.2.1 and BA.2.1. “A veritable swarm of variants is circulating, but XBB is rapidly replacing common sub-variants, such as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1,” the expert points out. THE symptoms of Gryphon are similar to those related to Cerberus, which mainly attack the upper respiratory tract and manifest themselves in sore throat, cough, cold. Fever does not always present with high temperatures and, unlike the cases of the first waves, the symptom of loss of smell and taste is no longer common.

Gryphon variant, the Ministry of Health: “If it gets worse, masks and agile work in Italy”. EU: remain vigilant on flights from China

XBB.1.5 is also present in Italy

Gryphon quickly spread to at least nine other countries, six of which were European. In addition to Italy, where as of December 27 it constituted 1.82% of the SarsCoV2 virus in circulation, XBB was detected in France (1.22%), Belgium (4.56%), Germany (2.05% ), Spain (2.61%) and the United Kingdom (5.44%) as indicated by the Our World in Data website, citing the data relating to the genetic sequences of the virus deposited in the Gisaid international database. The XBB is also present in Australia (3.33%), Canada (1.93%) and the United States (13.42%). Here, in particular, it appears to be related to the recent 140% increase in hospitalizations in New York over the past month. Gryphon is spreading rapidly in the northeastern United States, where it accounts for more than half of new infections. Scientists are in the early stages of studying the XBB.1.5 variant and subvariant, which appears to be able to evade immune system responses.

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Gryphon variant in China, WHO fears

The Chinese situation is so critical that Airinfinity’s mathematical models predict impressive peaks in mid-January and early March 2023, with 4.2 million cases per day. Massive numbers that could cause over a million deaths. Health institutions and World Health Organization experts warn: the more the virus spreads in the population, the more likely it is that it will give rise to new variants. For this, observe the geneticist Massimo Zollo, coordinator of the Covid-19 task force of the Ceinge in Naples, “checks would be necessary at the airports not only on direct flights arriving from China, but on indirect ones”. “More active action is also needed for the diffusion of antiviral drugs and to continue researching the variants, to understand what could happen from today to two months”. As for China, the genetic sequences deposited in the Gisaid international bank, updated as of December 22, indicate that “above all subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7 are circulating and that there are 81 sequences of the XBB subvariant deposited as of December 9”, he continues. Zollo, who analyzed the data with Angelo Boccia, from the Ceinge Bioinformatics group. The fact that only 81 XBB sequences have been filed, he notes, indicates that the variant sequencing action has been stalled, or not made public.

Do vaccines protect?

To allow XBB to spread rapidly would be the mutation called F486P, which would allow it to escape the antibodies generated by both Omicron 5 infections and vaccines and also would strengthen the link with the Ace2 receptor found on human cells. Mutations have also been detected on the Spike protein, the molecular claw that the virus uses to attach itself to human cells, plus four mutations on the N nucleoprotein, which has the function of protecting the viral genome, and five on the enzyme necessary for the virus to reproduce its genetic material. “This means – concludes Zollo – that the SarsCoV2 virus is also improving in its ability to replicate itself”. The good news is that a study by Emory University, Stanford University and NIAID published on December 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that bivalent RNA vaccines – also used in Italy as vaccine boosters – improve neutralization against subvariants Omicron including also BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1 and XBB.


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Gryphon variant, is it dangerous? Symptoms, vaccines, spread in China and Italy: here’s what we know

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