What is XE variant? Experts on common symptoms, severity and possibility of new wave
XE variant of coronavirus has triggered fresh concerns about a new wave. Experts elaborate on common symptoms, disease severity and its possible impact on children.
As XE variant of Coronavirus surfaces in 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 say that ever since its discovery in the UK early this year, XE appears to be mild. Experts however have warned against letting the guard down and advise people to continue following Covid-appropriate behaviour. (Also read: 67-year-old man tested +ve for XE variant, fully recovered: Gujarat official)
What is XE variant?
"The XE variant of Coronavirus was first detected in England in mid-January and has been confirmed in more than 600 cases since then. Very limited cases have been reported in China and Thailand as well," says Dr Chetan Rao Vaddepally, Consultant Pulmonologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad.
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," says Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Consultant Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist, Head, Ameri Health, Asian Hospital, Faridabad.
Why viruses recombine and what led to the birth of XE variant
"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," Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan is 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," adds Dr Venkatagopalan.
What is the disease severity of XE variant?
"The disease severity of XE appears to be mild- we have to exercise caution before claiming this is what happens, because we also have to take into account that a lot of people are now vaccinated many times over as compared to previous waves," says Dr Venkatagopalan.
"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 hospitalisations or mortality. Further research and observations will be needed to prove the same," says Dr Rao.
Symptoms of XE variant
"So far, the symptoms reported with this variant remains that of the Omicron such as fatigue, lethargy, fever, headache, body pain, palpitations and heart issues," says Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Consultant Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist, Head, Ameri Health, Asian Hospital, Faridabad.
"There is no evidence so far to say that the symptoms of XE variant are different from the already existing variants," says Dr Rao.
Can XE variant cause a fresh wave?
"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," says Dr Venkatagopalan.
"Although the variant has been discovered in the UK since January 2022, fewer cases of severity 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 defence mechanism," says Dr Charu Dutta Arora.
"In India, the first case of XE variant was found in Mumbai (as per Municipal Corporation). But 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 defence. One must get vaccinated at the time of their second/precautionary dose," adds Dr Arora.
"Right from its identification in January, there were hardly more that 600 cases detected which is a probable indicator that we might not see a wave because of this variant. Having said that it is always advisable to continue following COVID appropriate behaviour because we never know when things go wrong, especially with Coronoviruses. There is always a risk of emergences of more recombinant variants," says Dr Rao.
Effect of XE variant on children
"As of today, the completely vaccine naive population are the kids. 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," adds Dr Venkatagopalan.
"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 an unvaccinated age group remains vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19," adds Dr Arora.
"No data yet on the effect of XE variant on children. Aggressive vaccination of the population including children might help mitigate the crisis," says Dr Rao.
XE variant: the road ahead
"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," says Dr Arora.