Covid Variant XE Highly Transmissible; How Worried Should We Be As Experts Say India In Endemic Stage

WHO has warned the world of one more contagious variant of SARS-CoV-2— Variant ‘XE’. And stated that there is no such evidence that can indicate any kind of severe outcome from these Covid-19 variants and their higher transmissibility. 

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New Delhi: As the state governments are preparing to lift the Covid-19 restrictions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of one more contagious variant of SARS-CoV-2 — ‘XE’. 

Worrying about the lethal effects of the variant, we asked some experts about their opinions on the same. India Ahead reached out to Dr Ishwar Gilada who is a consultant in HIV and Infectious Diseases, and Secretary-General of the Organised Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG). He said, “It is the duty of WHO to warn the world of any such small or big changes that take place. However, it doesn’t mean it would always lead to a major public health emergency.” 

According to the WHO, this variant is still under monitoring as there are very limited samples collected so far. The first sample of Covid-19 variant XE was documented in France at the beginning of March 2022. WHO confirmed that the transmissibility level of this recombinant Omicron variant is ten times higher. 

While talking to Dr Rajesh Parikh, who is Director of Jaslok hospital in Mumbai, about the dangerous side of XE and the other two floating variants XD and XF, he explained, “XE is a hybrid of two sub-variants of Omicron. It is expected to be 10 per cent more transmissible, however, no research on its severity as well as the efficacy of vaccines against it is yet known.” 

“Early growth rates for XE were not significantly different from BA.2, but using the most recent data up to, XE has a growth rate of 9.8 per cent above that of BA.2. As this estimate has not remained consistent as new data have been added, it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of growth advantage for the recombinant. Numbers are too small for the XE recombinant to be analysed by region,” he added. 

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The study done on the XE variant is limited and the evidence of risk for the variant being phenotypic or having an epidemiological impact is certainly unclear. According to the WHO’s weekly epidemiological report, variant XE is a recombinant strain of two sub-lineages of Omicron, BA.1 and BA.2 variants of Covid-19.  

Dr Gilada stated that “UK and France as also several countries in Europe had ongoing Delta waves culminating in the Omicron wave. And at that time it was BA.1. So we have had hybridisation of Delta with BA.1 and that explains XD in France and XF in the UK. Thereafter Omicron replaced Delta and developed sub-lineages BA.1 and BA.2. And possibly they hybridised and became XE.”

Adding to the same, Dr Parikh explained that the sub-lineages present in these variants, “XD and XF are a combination of Delta and BA.1. XD, which has an Omicron ‘S-gene’ incorporated into a Delta genome. It is present in several European countries. XF caused a small cluster in Europe. XE is a BA.1 and BA.2 recombinant, with the majority of the genome including the S-gene belonging to BA.2, XE shows evidence of community transmission within a region.”

XE is categorised as a recombinant strain as it has three mutations that are not present in any of its parent sequences although it consists of two sub-lineages from its parent variants, as was mentioned in the weekly report released by WHO. The report also mentioned XE being ten times more contagious than the BA.2 variant of Omicron. 

Clearing the doubts about the lethal effects of the variant, the report also stated that there is no need to panic as the experts are still monitoring the severity. WHO is running a comparative assessment of the variant’s characteristics and related public health risks. A team of experts and researchers are involved in tracking the global spread of XE, the Variant Under Monitoring (VUM). 

However, for India experts believe that country has already achieved endemicity and this variant would hardly have a lethal impact on the population in a wider context. Dr Gilada, who is an expert on infectious diseases has claimed according to his expertise that India would not suffer again, he said, “India had an advantage in a sense when Omicron wave hit the country, Delta wave had Been at its lowest barring in Kerala. And we had a long time of over a month between Europe and India. So we had only the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron.”

“What we have seen in the last month or so is a continuous downward trend in Covid-19 graph and now it’s less than 2000 daily for the entire country. This is despite wide opening up, elections in five states, socialisations, travel, holidaying, and tourism. So we can safely conclude that it’s over for India and India is endemic. However, we will not close our eyes and science. We should and we will keep vigil but without any panic,” he added. 

There are two more virus variants present — XD and XF. A WHO team is also monitoring these two variants of virus which are known to be a hybrid of Delta and Omicron, that were mostly found in France, Denmark, and Belgium. 

So far the world has reported only 637 cases of the XE variant, which does not create enough data to declare it as a ‘Variant of Concern’. WHO also stated that there is no such evidence that can indicate any kind of severe outcome from these Covid-19 variants and their higher transmissibility. 

Symptoms of this variant depend on person to person and their body’s immune system. People with weak immune systems can face harsh impacts of this virus variant, whereas it might not impact a healthy person much. It will be advised to keep masks on and sanitisers handy all the time when in public. 

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