Will XE Variant be a variant of concern

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Anupama Nair



It is two years now since a ‘mere virus’ held the world in its grasp. Coronavirus and its many variants had never stopped giving we the people nightmares ever since they day they were first detected in 2020. The virus then and as its emerging variants today are still silent killers.

Coronavirus infection has been taking a huge toll on human health and the health care management system since 2020. So far, a number of variants, both mild and severe, have emerged. Of all the coronavirus variants that have emerged, since 2020, five have been put under variants of concern category.

The XE variant of coronavirus has caused fresh concerns about a new wave. Experts talked about common symptoms, disease severity and its possible impact on children. As XE variant of Coronavirus surfaced in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, a fresh scare of a new wave of infections has left people worried. XE is combination of two most prevalent Omicron variants: BA1 and BA2, which makes it even more infectious than Omicron. While this means that the variant will spread faster than previous Omicron strains and infect more people than before, experts are of the view that ever since its discovery in the UK early this year, XE appears to be mild, however have warned against letting the guard down and advised people to continue following Covid-appropriate behavior – masking and social distance.

"The XE variant of Coronavirus was first noticed in England in mid-January and has been confirmed to more than 600 cases since then. Very limited cases have been reported in China and Thailand", said Dr Chetan Rao Vaddepally, Consultant Pulmonologist, Yashoda Hospitals, in Hyderabad. The XE variant is known to be 10% more transmissible and has a higher community transmission advantage of 1.1 as compared to the original virus.

"XE variant is a recombinant variant of the SARS COV 2 virus. It means that the two variants (BA.1 and BA.2) have recombined and the mutation happened to let this variant come in presence. It is known to be 10% more transmissible and has a higher community transmission advantage of 1.1 as compared to the original virus," said an expert.

"Coronaviruses carry RNA as their genetic content. This inherently renders them more flexible and allows them to make new strains and variants easily. On the contrary, humans and all other life forms carry DNA as their genetic material, which is more stable," warned Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan  the Director, Covid Task Force, Awareness, Rotary Club of Madras Next Gen". Recombination of coronaviruses is an expected event. However, we cannot really predict what type of recombination will occur or what it will mean in terms of transmission or disease severity," she confirmed

"The disease severity of XE appears to be mild, however, we have to exercise caution before claiming this is what happens, as we also have to take into account that a lot of people are now vaccinated many times over as compared to previous waves". So far there is no much evidence to say that the disease caused by the XE variant is more severe and neither did they see an increase in the rate of hospitalizations or mortality. Further research and observations will be needed to prove the same.

The symptoms reported with this variant remains similar to Omicron such as fatigue, lethargy, fever, headache, body pain, palpitations and heart issues. "There is no evidence so far to say that the symptoms of XE variant are different from the already existing variants. Whether XE will cause a new wave or a newer, different variant will cause a wave, we cannot predict. During the life time of this pandemic, multiple variants have been identified, most of which have died out quickly".

Although the variant has been discovered in the UK since January 2022, fewer cases of severity seen worldwide is encouraging. This means that the concern is low and hence, the people who were infected with the previous Omicron variant still have enough circulating antibodies as their protective defense mechanism. "In India, the first case of XE variant was found in Mumbai (as per Municipal Corporation), however, the positivity rate has not been on an increasing trend. Thus, the possibility of having a wave due to this variant is questionable. However, vaccination is still the best defense. One must get vaccinated at the time of their second-precautionary dose".

"As of today, the completely vaccine naive population are the young innocent children. COVID has generally been mild in children and there is no indication to say this variant will be any different. With schools closing for the summer, it is possible that transmission in schools may also reduce". Children, in particular, can be at risk population for this variant. Since the mandate of masking in public places have been lifted by most of the state governments and the sudden opening of all schools and offices, children, who are still unvaccinated remained vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19".

"No data is yet received on the effect of XE variant on children. Aggressive vaccination of the population including children might help mitigate the crisis. As the virus is evolving and circulating in the world, there is still a need to continue masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene along with on-time vaccination for all high-risk population, like the elderly, children and patients with other diseases" said an expert.


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