XBB.1.16 driving fresh Covid-19 spike in Maha, dominant strain in Pune - Hindustan Times
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XBB.1.16 driving fresh Covid-19 spike in Maha, dominant strain in Pune

Mar 28, 2023 10:38 PM IST

The strain is mutating and evolving to elude the hybrid immunity developed by people, according to genome sequencing experts

The new variant XBB.1.16, the Omicron recombinant sublineage, is currently driving the new Covid-19 spike in the country and state and is also the dominant strain in circulation in the city, according to researchers involved in genome sequencing. Health experts have flagged XBB.1.16 because the virus is mutating and evolving to dodge the hybrid immunity developed by people. In Pune, the first case of XBB.1.16 was detected on February 3, 2023 before it was officially named as such globally on March 5. In Mumbai, the variant made its first appearance on March 11 this year.

In Pune, the first case of XBB.1.16 was detected on February 3, 2023 before it was officially named as such globally on March 5 (HT FILE PHOTO)
In Pune, the first case of XBB.1.16 was detected on February 3, 2023 before it was officially named as such globally on March 5 (HT FILE PHOTO)

Two studies were conducted in February and March by experts of B J Medical College (BJMC) and Sassoon General Hospital (SGH) which involved genome sequencing of samples of SARS-CoV-2. In the first study completed on March 10, Covid-19 samples of patients from Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad were tested in which genome sequencing of 67 samples was carried out, 27 out of which were found infected with the XBB.1.16 variant. In the second study completed on March 20, genome sequencing of 56 samples was carried out, 23 out of which were found infected with the XBB.1.16 variant.

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Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, head of Microbiology department, BJMC and state coordinator for genome sequencing, said, “The study was carried out proactively due to the spike in Covid-19 cases. Only XBB and XBB.1 were seen in sequencing. However, a particular variant is causing a surge in cases and the same peak is ebbing; the same variant cannot cause the surge in such a situation. To find the root cause, we started the study to check if there is any new variant in circulation which is causing the spike.”

Dr Karyakarte said that the XBB.1.16 variant was already in circulation in Pune before it was officially named globally on March 5. “We found it first during the sequencing at our laboratory. Special attention needs to be given to XBB.1.16., which is currently a variant of interest. The reason for concern is that it is capable of transmitting at high speed. It has also gained additional mutations in its nucleotide and amino acid changes. It is a mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2, mainly of Omicron, which can smartly elude immunity,” Dr Karyakarte said.

During the ninth week of 2023, XBB.1.16 constitutes up to 52.63% of all variants detected in Maharashtra as per the genome sequencing study conducted by BJMC.

A doctor from the BJMC team said, “This virus is mutating and evolving to escape the hybrid immunity developed by people after the robust vaccine immunisation and exposure to the virus. The virus cannot survive unless it mutates. Omicron has been mild and has been seen infecting patients with mild symptoms. But the high-risk category patients will be at higher risk. If a particular virus spreads unrestrictedly, more people will be infected and eventually, the more susceptible people will be infected.”

Dr Sanjeev Thakur, dean, BJMC, said that while there is a spike in the number of cases, the number of hospitalisations is less. “We have made adequate arrangements including beds, medicines, oxygen supply and teams to handle any surge in cases. Many virus variants will come and go but the only solution is Covid-appropriate behaviour and immunisation. People should complete their immunisation and take booster shots. Using a face mask is recommended. High-risk patients with morbid conditions should take extra precautions,” Dr Thakur said.

Bone marrow unit at Jehangir hospital

Meanwhile, the city just got another bone marrow transplant (BMT) unit at Jehangir Hospital, courtesy Mrs Ruksshana and Mr Meher Ankesaria who have dedicated it to their late parents, Mrs Taz and Mr Naval Nariman.

The BMT unit is equipped with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter positive pressure monitored rooms for adults and children (malignant and non-malignant). A bone marrow transplant is a long procedure which requires the patient to be admitted for 40 to 60 days. This BMT unit also has a comfortable provision for the patient’s attendant. A team of BMT-trained consultants, nurses, housekeeping staff, clinical pharmacologists and dieticians along with an in-house transfusion medicine department are available round-the-clock.

Dr Aniket Mohite, hematologist-oncologist, said, “BMT being a curative option for many patients, the BMT unit at Jehangir Hospital will serve patients from all parts of Maharashtra and national and international patients at large. This unit will cater to pediatric and adult patients of leukemia, lymphoma myeloma and thalassemia, aplastic anemia and bone marrow failure syndrome. It is a new milestone set up with the support of the entire family of Jehangir Hospital.”

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