Facebook Twitter

Why the new omicron variant is being called ‘Kraken’

As more variants emerge, some believe giving a ‘street name’ for the COVID-19 variants makes them more easily discernible. But others disagree on their use

SHARE Why the new omicron variant is being called ‘Kraken’
An illustration for the omicron variant.

Alex Cochran, Deseret News

Starting year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, a highly contagious variant called XBB.1.5 was estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to account for 40% of all cases in the United States, as reported by the Deseret News previously.

Recently, the CDC retracted this number due to a large margin of error and is now estimating XBB.1.5 to account for between 14 and 46.5% of new cases.

The large interval means the variant is “growing in proportion quickly,” Barbara Mahon, head of the CDC’s proposed Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, told CBS.

And it’s most likely growing quickly because it's considered highly contagious, as reported by USA Today.

But what do those letters and numbers in “XBB.1.5” even mean? Do they reflect the severity the CDC is reporting? Could an average Joe remember the difference between that and the many other variants?

Probably not, and that's where the nickname “Kraken” — a terrifying mythical sea monster — comes into play. On Twitter, the hashtag #Kraken has started to make an appearance.

Ryan Gregory, a biology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, gave the nickname “Kraken” to XBB.1.5 soon after Christmas. as reported by Fortune. He hopes to make the name more identifiable to the general public, rather than just a strain of numbers and letters. Gregory reportedly has many more names of mystical creatures ready to go as more variants spring up.

Originally, scientists used greek letters to name the different COVID-19 variants, and that’s where names such as “omicron,” “delta,” “alpha” and others came from, as Fortune explained. But soon, omicron split into different variants and a new number and letter system was created.

This can get confusing to anyone, even the scientists who named them, like Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Ark., told Fortune.

“When you keep calling 200 different lineages of different potential the same name, it becomes a problem,” said Rajnarayanan.

Some Twitter users express concern about using “street names” — as Gregory termed them — that use names of terrifying mythical creatures.

“The WHO has likely given this significant thought and I suggest that names of mythical monsters fall into (terms that incite undue fear) category,” Thomas House, a professor of mathematical sciences and researcher of mathematical epidemiology in Manchester, tweeted.

The World Health Organization’s best practices of infectious disease naming posted in 2005 states that names should “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies, and people” — including terms that cite “geographic locations, people’s names, species of animal or food, cultural, population, industry or occupational references, and terms that incite undue fear.”

WHO representatives have not yet responded to emails sent by Deseret News on Saturday.