A new COVID-19 variant has been identified in The United Kingdombut experts say there is no cause for alarm yet.
The variant, known as XE, is a combination of the original BA.1 omicron variant and its subvariant BA.2. This type of combination is known as a “recombinant” variant.
“Right now, there is really no concern for public health,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and a contributor to ABC News. “Recombinant variants happen again and again. In fact, the reason this is the XE variant is recombinant, that we have already had XA, XB, XC, XD, and none of them have turned out to be any real concern. . “
According to one update Last week from the UK Health Security Agency, 637 cases of XE have been identified per. March 22, with the earliest discovered January 19.
An early indication from the UK suggests that XE could be slightly more transmissible than BA.2, but the World Health Organization said more research is needed.
Meanwhile, XE accounts for less than 1% of the total COVID-19 cases that have undergone genomic sequencing in the UK, and there is no evidence to suggest that the variant can escape vaccines, cause more serious disease or be more fatal.
“This particular recombinant, XE, has shown a variable growth rate and we can not yet confirm whether it has a real growth benefit,” said Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser to the UKHSA, in a statement.
So far, no cases of the recombinant variant have been reported in any other country, including the United States.
Brownstein said there are still many unanswered questions about XE, but that – in the United States – there is a high level of protection both from vaccines and from natural immunity during the omicron wave.
“It is possible that it may be more transmissible, but that does not necessarily mean it is more serious,” he said. “And given the large number of infections we’ve already seen with omicron, it’s really unclear whether even being a little more transmissible means we’ll see any effect of this variant.”
Brownstein said one of the reasons Britain was able to pick up on the variant as quickly as it did is because of its robust monitoring system.
According to the global database GISAID, The UK has submitted more than 1 million omicron samples for genomic monitoring. The United States has submitted more than 781,000.
“The United Kingdom has done a phenomenal job of sequencing a large number of cases, making analyzes and producing output from that work,” he said. “So you could actually see the identification of XE as a positive one because it shows that our public health systems are working, and identifying new variants, even when the case count is very small.”
Brownstein added: “This shows that some of these varieties may be needles in a haystack, and here we have an example of one being identified very early.”
The World Health Organization published its own report says it monitors XE, but there is as yet no evidence that it is a variant of concern like alpha, delta and omicron.
“The WHO will continue to closely monitor and assess the public health risks associated with recombinant variants” and will “provide updates as further evidence becomes available,” the organization said in a report released on March 29.
Brownstein said variants will continue to emerge, but it is important for people to follow COVID-19 mitigation measures so they do not get a chance to spread.
“Being vaccinated and boosted, as well as practicing good hygiene and following public health recommendations are all helping to drive infection down the community,” he said. “When we have uncontrolled spread, that’s when the virus gets a chance to mutate.”
UKHSA said it is also monitoring two other recombinant variants known as XD and XF, both of which are a combination of the delta variant and BA.1.
To date, only 38 cases of XF have been identified in the UK and none since mid-February, while the XD variant has only been identified in global databases in 49 cases, mostly in France.