#WhatTheFAQ: There's a new COVID variant doing the rounds. Yikes! Let's learn about the XE variant

A newly discovered COVID-19 variant ‘XE’ has spared concerns worldwide. Here’s all there is to know about the virus, its characteristics and possible threats

Recently, there has been a lot of talk going on about the newly discovered Coronavirus variant 'XE'. While it is said to have spread in many countries, doubts still remain about its transmission potential and threat to life. Amidst these concerns, a dubious case of XE is reported in Mumbai, sparking more anxiety. So, let us understand all about it and be prepared.

What is the XE variant?
The Coronavirus XE variant is known as a ‘recombinant’, which means that it is a combination of the mutations of the sub-variants BA .1 and BA.2 of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. In simple terms, it is a variation of the combinations of two different variations. The Omicron variant had emerged last year and was responsible for almost 90% of all infections detected this year. It had a high transmission potential and brought about the third wave in India. The sub-variants of it, BA.1 and BA.2 came up soon. The BA.1 sub-variant was dominant in the initial phase of the third wave, however, it was the BA.2 variant that acquired dominance later and continues to do so till now. The XE variant has not yet been prominent in India.

Has the XE variant been traced in India?
On April 6, Wednesday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) stated that a 50-year old woman, a costume designer, who had a travel history to South Africa may have been infected by the XE variant. The Maharashtra government said GISAID (global genomic data) had detected the XE variant. However, almost immediately, the Union Health Ministry sources in New Delhi clarified that the identification of the XE variant in that particular patient was yet to be confirmed. They also said that the preliminary analysis had suggested that the virus detected in the patient was not the XE variant. INSACOG (The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium), the Centre’s research body, stated that the case has to be re-examined. It added that there was the need to test if the sample actually contained the XE variant, or had been simply exposed to multiple Covid infections. “We will run genome sequencing again to check for multiple exposures,” INSACOG sources told India Today TV.

Is the XE variant harmful?
WHO stated that warned that the new variant is 10% more potent than the current BA.2 sub-variant. This makes the XE variant highly transmissible and due to this could become the next dominant strain. This causes concern. However, more research and studies on the variant is yet to be carried out. According to Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency), “more data is needed to confirm whether XE has a true growth advantage". The symptoms of infection remain almost the same as the other variants. Whether vaccines are effective against this new strain or not also remains to be found out.

Where has the XE variant been reported so far?
The XE variant was first detected in the UK in mid-January this year. 637 cases have been reported so far. Shanghai in China is also facing lockdown due to this variant. Germany, South Korea, Italy and France have also been greatly affected by XE.

Why are so many variants of COVID-19 emerging and what does it mean for India?
The random process of genetic mutations in viruses and other organisms keeps happening continuously. So, variations keep emerging. And recombinant variations are also very common. Variants that contain mutation characteristics of two or more known variants frequently keep occurring. When variations cannot be avoided, it is better to be prepared. Another wave in India because of the XE variant is a future possibility and to prevent it, precautions have to be taken.

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