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Could the COVID-19 XE Variant Be More Severe Than the Omicron Variant?

Could the COVID-19 XE Variant Be More Severe Than the Omicron Variant?

For the last two years, living with the pandemic, we have seen various variants appear. The most noteworthy include the delta and omicron variants. The problem that these variants have presented is that they are mutated forms of the Covid-19 virus, which in many cases, such as the delta variant, for example, can supply a genetic advantage to the original strain that makes it more serious. Although not quite as serious as delta, omicron is a lot more infectious.

The latest variant is Omicron XE. However, this is a little different to the average virus with a few mutations, it is a virus that contains the genetic material of several different variants, to produce a new strain of the Covid-19 virus.

At the start of April, there as around 1,179 cases of the Omicron XE in the UK, with most of these being found in East and Southern England. You may wonder, as we all do when another new variant emerges, how much of a worry is the Omicron XE. Although we don’t know a huge amount, what we do know about it suggests there is not a lot to be too scared of. However, in the interest of presenting the facts behind that thought, let’s look a little closer at this new variant.

Omicron XE and Recombinant Variants

Sometimes when viruses replicate, it is common for them to make some mistakes in the genetic coding which leads to separate and slightly different mutations. While some mutations don’t change the overall viral structure, referred to as silent mutations, some gain advantages. For instance, mutations in the spike protein can increase how transmissible the virus is compared to other variants.

The process of recombination is different and involves two variants infecting the same person in the same cell at the very same time. When this happens, their genetic material can combine and produce a virus that has a mixture of genes from the original infecting viruses. The resulting recombinant variant can then spread to others, which is what we have seen happen with the Omicron XE variant.

Many multiple recombinants have been internationally identified. Along with the XE, this includes the XF and XD. While the XF and XD are recombinants that are delta variant combinations with Omicron lineages, the Omicron XE involves a combination of two different strains of omicron.

Why Do These Different Viral Variants Combine?

The phenomenon of viral genetic recombination is not new. It often happens with viruses like HIV and influenza. There is even the theory that the original strain of Covid resulted from a recombination event.

In terms of adaption, recombination as a process provides viruses often with huge advantages because it allows for more significant and quicker changes, particularly when compared to the much slower process of mutations being acquired through replication errors. It has been seen that recombinant viruses show noticeable behavioural changes, like resistance to viral drugs, evasion of any existent immunity to a virus and an increase in infectiousness. However, much like the mutations that develop through error, many recombinant viruses do not show any noted differences from the parent viruses.

Conclusion – Should We Worry About Omicron XE?

What do we know about Omicron XE, with all this in mind? We know that it shares most of the genetic details, the spike protein included, as the sub-variant BA.2 of omicron, which is the variant that is most commonly found right now in the country. Therefore, it is likely the omicron XE characteristics like vaccine efficacy, disease severity and transmissibility are the same as BA.2. However, in the interest of being careful, scientists are still monitoring and studying omicron XE, because it has distinctively different genetics from its parents.

According to the first data related to the Omicron XE variant, the growth rate seems to be somewhat higher than that of the BA.2 variant, however as there is only a relatively small number of cases, the data is not as detailed as we would like and it’s harder to make solid estimations.

The one thing we know for certain is that BA.2 is similar in severity to the BA.1 and that all omicron variants do not cause as serious versions of the Covid-19 virus as other variants. Therefore, to conclude, there is nothing to suggest we need to worry unnecessarily about the Omicron XE variant.

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Could the COVID-19 XE Variant Be More Severe Than the Omicron Variant?

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Could the COVID-19 XE Variant Be More Severe Than the Omicron Variant?

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