All you need to know about the Omicron XE Variant

COVID-19 pandemic has evolved so have the virus mutations, with omicron XE identified as the latest recombinant variant.

Recombinant variants take place when two several variants infect the same cell, in the same person, at the same time and integrate their genetic material.

According to the most recent update from the UK Health Security Agency published on the 8th of April, there have been at least 1,179 cases of omicron XE identified in the UK and the majority of these cases have been in the south and east of England. There has also been news of a handful of cases elsewhere around the world, likely as a result of international travel.

People are still taking COVID PCR test Leicester Square at the slightest hint of infection at our Leicester Square clinic.

Even though we don’t know a lot about the XE Variant, what we do know doesn’t suggest there’s cause for serious concern. Here is a breakdown.

Viruses replicate themselves and sometimes make mistakes in their genetic code leading to individual mutations. Constantly, these mutations do not lead to any change to the structure of the virus – termed “silent mutations”. Some mutations, however, can confer an advantage. For instance, mutations that occur in the spike protein make the virus more transmissible than previous variants. There have been repeated mutations in the spike proprotein-producing giants of concern.

The term recombination refers to a process where two different variants infect the same cell, in the same person, at the same moment. They then combine their genetic material, stemming in a virus that possesses a mix of genes

generated from the two infecting “parent” viruses. This recombinant variant can spread to other people – as has been the case with omicron XE.

The Omicron XE variant is a mixture of two omicron strains called the BA.1 and BA.2.

Genetic recombination of viruses is not a recent phenomenon. It arises regularly with viruses such as influenza and HIV. The proposed origins of the original Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 virus are from a recombination event in bats.

Recombinant viruses show significant changes in their behavior. These include increased infectiousness, evasion of existing immunity to the virus, and resistance to drugs.

We understand that omicron XE has the plurality of its genetic information, including the spike protein, from the omicron sub-variant BA.2, which is the variant predominating in the UK at the moment.

The peculiarities of omicron XE like transmissibility, the severity of disease, and vaccine efficacy are similar to those of BA.2.

It is prudent that scientists keep monitoring and studying omicron XE, as it is a genetically distinct virus from its parents.

Preliminary data collected for the omicron XE variant suggests that the percentage of new infections in the population is slightly elevated than that of omicron BA.2. Nonetheless, because there is only a small number of people infected with XE at this time, the data that has been generated on this is limited and it is hard to draw solid conclusions at the moment.

Reassuringly, it is known that BA.2 is no more severe than BA.1 and that omicron variants across-the-board tend to result in less severe disease than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, they are highly infectious.

In conclusion, the need for the creation of updated vaccines is becoming ever-pressing as all available vaccines are created based on the original Wuhan strain. Data shows that the more changes in the spike protein subsequent variants have acquired, the less effective current vaccines are at preventing infection. That said, vaccines are still very effective at preventing severe disease or death from COVID.

Even though restrictions have been lifted, the need to maintain social distance, wear a nose mask, carry out proper handwashing, and get tested should the telltale symptoms of Covid-19 arise cannot be overemphasized.

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