If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
The ‘Kraken’ variant, otherwise known as XBB.1.5, is more contagious than most of the variants we’ve seen thus far. On average, one infected person is getting around 1.6 people sick right now, so it’s very contagious. XBB.1.5 has a number of new mutations on its spike proteins, including one that makes it very infectious without sacrificing any of its ability to sneak past our immune defenses. Importantly, though, this variant is not any more severe and doesn’t seem to cause any different symptoms than other Omicron subvariants, which is good news. And based on how it’s trending over the last week, the CDC’s estimates for its trajectory have been modified and it’s not necessarily looking as inevitable that everyone will get it, though that’s certainly still a possibility. It’s definitely still on track to be the dominant US strain nationwide.
We were saddened to hear that the legendary guitarist Jeff Beck passed away this week from bacterial meningitis, according to his publicist. Meningitis is an infection in the membranes around your brain and spinal cord. There are two kinds of meningitis, bacterial and viral. The bacterial type is rarer and more dangerous. Symptoms can include a stiff neck, high fever, headache, confusion, light sensitivity, and vomiting. Prompt diagnosis (via spinal tap) and treatment can make a big difference. Bacterial meningitis can be prevented through vaccination - it’s a common childhood vaccine around age 12 with a booster at 16. But it’s also contagious, so if you’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis, speak with your doctor (who may put you on preventative antibiotics) and don’t ignore any symptoms. If you don’t think you’ve been vaccinated for meningitis, now is a good time to ask your doctor about that, too!
This is a tricky one, and we’re not entirely sure, but we have a few theories. First, colder regions may tend to see surges earlier, since people are gathering indoors more. Second, New England has much better wastewater surveillance and official COVID testing sites than much of the rest of the country. So, more than an actual increase in cases, it could be that New England just has better surveillance and is noticing the surges before other parts of the country. Regardless, we’ve seen time and again that COVID increases in the northeast then continue to spread south and west, so it’s important data to keep an eye on.
Short answer: we don’t. At-home tests mean that tens of thousands of people could take COVID tests in a single day and we’d have no way of knowing how many of the are positive or where the trends are. The NIH launched a website for people to be able to report their own home tests to help combat this, but the information they gather is incomplete - more women report than men, and the majority are positive tests, likely because people are more inclined to report them. Those data are much less useful than official testing sites, for example, which report both negative and positive results with fidelity. The best we can do for now is create models to extrapolate from the official case numbers and to rely on more consistent measures like wastewater surveillance, which tends to be much more accurate.