A new XBB sub-variant of Omicron believed to be the strong variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading its wings across the country raising concerns about a spike in Covid-19 cases ahead of the Diwali festival. Maharashtra has witnessed 18 cases in the first fortnight of October, the state health department said on Wednesday, reported news agency PTI. Of the total cases, 13 are from Pune, twp from Nagpur and Thane and one from Akola. BA.5.1.7 and BF.7 too have registered their presence in India as reported by Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre.
More than 70 cases have been reported from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu, reported the Hindu. Kerala Health Minister Veena George stated that two new variants of Covid-19- XBB and XBB1 are more contagious than earlier ones, reported news agency PTI. Some experts from the health department also predicted a rise in the coming winter season, especially in a festive environment. The strong variant is said to be a result of amassing changes in the virus’ spike surface protein.
XBB is a recombinant strain of BA.2.75 and BA.2.10.1, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the Covid technical lead at WHO. This recombinant strain has a significant growth advantage, she added. On the severity of the infection caused by this sub-variant, Maria said, we don’t see any changes in severity but it is too early to say that with limited data available.
Globally, several variants have emerged for instance in the United States there are BQ.1, BQ.1.1, BF.7, BA.4.6, BA.2.75 and BA.2.75.2 variants, reported CNN. In other countries, the recombinant variant XBB has been on a rise most likely triggering a new wave of cases in Singapore. Cases are also rising in Europe and the UK, where these variants have taken hold, as per the CNN report.
The strain also caused a doubling of cases in Singapore in a matter of a few days. The variant was first detected in August in India and has been traced in more than 17 countries since then, including Bangladesh, Denmark, India, Japan, and the US, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health. XBB is also currently “spreading efficiently in Singapore”, Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Prevention.com.
Chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Soumya Swaminathan warned that some countries may see “another wave of infections” with the XBB subvariant of Omicron, a variant of the Covid-19 virus.
XBB has seven mutations on the spike protein. The immune system takes time to recognise XBB. It tricks and dodges immune cells and can enter our body cells more easily to cause infection.
Swaminathan pointed out that there are over 300 subvariants of Omicron. “We had seen some recombinant viruses earlier. It is very immune-evasive, which means it can overcome the antibodies,” she was quoted by PTI as saying.
The emergence of new variants raised fears of a winter surge. There are concerns about whether the US would escape the surges of the past two pandemic winters. Experts fear that the downward trend may soon reverse itself, thanks to this entry of multiple variants, according to the CNN report.
What are the symptoms of the XBB variant?
Cases reported in India are so far mild, health departments have confirmed. The BQ.1 case of Pune is mild too and has a travel history of the USA. Symptoms of XBB are mostly similar to what they’ve been with Covid-19 in general, according to Prevention.com. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has earlier defined the symptoms as fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, Diarrhea
How contagious is the XBB subvariant?
Like other strains of Omicron, XBB is thought to be very contagious. Singapore’s Ministry of Health says that XBB is “at least as transmissible as currently circulating variants” but adds that “there is no evidence that XBB causes more severe illness.” Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, dean of the BJ Medical College, part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics, or INSACOG, said that the severity of the variant remains unknown but initial data suggest it causes mild illness.