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‘XE’ Variant Of Covid-19 And Here Is What We Need To Know

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

It has been more than two years since we have faced the challenge brought by COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. From 2020 till this day, we have faced and overcome some of the major hurdles with the help of the frontline healthcare workers and our determination to maintain precautions to stop the spread. The ability of this virus to mutate showed us some powerful variants like Omicron and Delta, which we have overcome in the 1st and 2nd waves.


How is XE different from Omicron?

 ‘XE’ is not a new covid variant, but is classified under Omicron itself, which caused the third wave of Covid-19 this winter. Omicron has sublineages like BA.1, BA. 2 and a few more. The new covid virus- XE is a recombinant of BA.1 and BA.2 sublineages of the Omicron variant

What is the difference between a recombinant and a variant?

A variant is a new mutated (changed) version of the previous virus. It is the natural tendency of viruses to change as they evolve. In the case of SARS CoV-2, we have come across a number of variants so far- alpha, beta, delta, Omicron and many others. A variant can come up with the change in its properties in terms of- disease severity, rate of spread and the effectiveness of existing vaccines and medications. 

 A recombinant virus is a combination of two previously existing strains. It can be produced naturally or by combining pieces of DNA using recombinant DNA technology in a lab.

In the case of the SARs-CoV-2 virus, the recombinant strain shares the genetic material of two strains, which in the case of circulating hybrid variants are the BA.1 and BA.2 subtypes of Omicron variant. Given that both the sub-lineages of the Omicron variant were highly transmissible and concerning, experts around the world are keeping a close eye on the emerging recombinants.

The XE recombinant, which is a combination of BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron sublineage, was first detected in the UK on January 19 and more than 600 sequences have been reported and confirmed so far, as per the UK Health Security Agency report. It contains the spike and structural proteins from BA.2 but comprises a fifth of the genome of BA.1.

While variants continue to evolve, the prognosis of COVID-19 largely depends on various factors, including the patient’s age, the severity of illness at presentation, pre-existing conditions, how quickly treatment can be implemented, and response to treatment.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

How transmissible is XE?

In an April 5 report, WHO also stated that as part of the Omicron variant, the XE recombinant was being tracked. According to preliminary estimates, XE has a community growth rate advantage of 1.1 (or a 10 percent transmission advantage) over BA.2. and not 10 times the previous strain. This, however, is yet to be fully confirmed.

The WHO states in the report, ”The SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to evolve. Given the current high level of transmission worldwide, it is likely that further variants, including recombinants, will continue to emerge. Recombination is common among coronaviruses and is regarded as an expected mutational event.”

COVID strain symptoms due to XE

Possible symptoms of Omicron XE:

  • Scratchy throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin irritation
  • Mild fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

What can we do to keep ourselves safe?

While it is important to maintain hygiene, several precautionary measures can be taken:

  • Washing hands frequently: Washing our hands when we can will help wash away any contact with an infected person or surface.
  • Using alcohol rubs: When it is not possible to wash hands, using an alcohol sanitiser will help keep hands germ-free.
  • Use of masks: Masks will not only keep you from being affected but will also help your near and dear ones to be safe as well.
  • Ventilation- Stay in ventilated spaces and avoid closed crowded areas.
  • Travelling: Avoid all kinds of non-essential travels and steer clear of crowded places like overcrowded pubs, buses, trains or local areas.

How effective are the existing vaccines against XE?

According to expert opinion, the existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective and everyone must get vaccinated. Precaution dose is now available for everyone above 18 years of age and one must take the booster as and when eligible. There is no reason to panic at this stage but it is important to follow Covid’s appropriate behaviour and reduce our risk of getting exposed to the virus. As advised by the health ministry of India, people who have taken both doses of their vaccination must wait for 9 months before taking the booster shot, which is being hailed as a preventive vaccine shot. Studies conducted in the lab and in the real world show that full vaccination plus a booster shot provide stronger protection against infection with Omicron and its sub-variants.

Thus, although most of our hardships seem over, we must continue maintaining precautions as much as we can to completely flatten the curve and eradicate the infections that are still prevalent in the country. With all our efforts together, we will be able to achieve this soon.

Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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