As Omicron’s highly transmissible ba.2 subvariant dominates the spread of COVID-19 across Canada and globally, scientists are keeping a close eye on a new hybrid variant.
Omicron’s Xe sub-lineage, which was first detected in the UK in January, is what experts call a “recombinant virus”.
A recombinant virus is a combination of genetic material from two or more different viruses – in this case, the original subtype of Omicron (Ba.1) and the more infectious Ba.2.
There have been 6 cases of COVID-19 XE in Canada
As of April 6, Canada had detected six cases of XE recombinant lineage, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told Global News on Wednesday.
Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease specialist at the University of British Columbia, said, “As long as you now have everything open – no mask and nothing – you have the ability to generate new mutants, variants or new recombinants. Always open.”
xe is being classified under the omicron version of concern and the World Health Organization (WHO) says it will fall under that lineage unless a significant difference in transmission and severity is noted.
Here’s what we know so far about Omicron’s XE Recombinant variant.
What is a recombinant version?
All viruses are mutated and have subtypes that have a different genetic makeup than the original version but have a common origin.
Bach said that a recombinant version is created when two types infect the same cell in the body at the same time.
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“Recessive variants are not an uncommon occurrence, especially when there are multiple variants in circulation, and many have been identified during the pandemic,” Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, said in a statement. on 25 March.
“As with other types of the disease, most will die relatively quickly,” she said.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a press conference on Tuesday that XE is mostly a combination of the spike protein – which is responsible for cell entry of BA.2, but also contains genes for BA.1 .
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According to WHO, based on preliminary analysis, XE is about 10 percent more permeable than BA.2.
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In the United Kingdom, as of 5 April, 1,125 cases of XE have been identified, the latest report from the UK’s Health Protection Agency said.
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The UKHSA said XE has been designated as a basis for community transmission and potential development in England. The agency estimates a growth rate of 12.6 percent, above BA.2, driving a sixth COVID-19 wave in Canada.
However, the WHO, PHAC and UKHSA say that more data is needed to confirm the increased transmittance.
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Although only six cases have been reported in Canada, Bach estimates that, due to a lack of testing, the number is likely to be much higher.
He explained that a higher level of transmittance means that there will be more viruses in the environment and more people can be infected.
severity, vaccine effectiveness
Experts say that until now, there isn’t enough evidence to draw conclusions about whether XE can cause more severe disease or affect vaccine effectiveness.
PHAC said scientists are looking for signs that XE changes disease severity, infection potential or affects the effectiveness of clinical trials, vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like this one is as serious or more serious than the other (Ba.2),” Bach said.
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However, each time the virus mutates there is a risk that the vaccines, which were designed to target the original Wuhan strain, will be less effective, he said.
“Now you have two different pieces – they’re basically glued together, and it’s related…. because we’ve already seen that the vaccine against Omicron isn’t that effective.”
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A growing body of research has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines stand for the Omicron variant, at least in people who have received booster shots. But protection from two doses appears to decline after a few months.
That’s why public health officials and experts are recommending boosters with masking and good ventilation as a form of defense.
“This virus is still with us, it’s circulating at a really rapid level, and we need to use all the equipment we have,” WHO’s COVID-19 technical chief Dr Maria Van Verkowe said in a YouTube Video last week.
“Vaccination is critically important and incredibly effective in preventing serious illness and death,” she said.
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