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Omicron XE variant: Here’s what we know about this hybrid strain of COVID – National

As Omicron’s highly transferable BA.2 subvariant dominates the distribution of COVID-19 in Canada and worldwide, scientists are closely following a new hybrid variant.

Omicron’s XE subline, first discovered in the UK in January, is what experts call a “recombinant virus”.

Recombinant virus is a combination of genetic material from two or more different viruses – in this case the original sub-variant of Omicron (BA.1) and the more infectious BA.2.

Read more: 6 cases of COVID-19 XE have been reported in Canada

As of April 6, Canada has identified six cases of recombinant XE line, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told Global News on Wednesday.

“As long as you have everything open now – without a mask and nothing – the potential to generate new mutants, variants or new recombinants is always open,” said Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease expert at the University of British Columbia.

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The XE is classified as a dangerous variant of Omicron, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says it will fall below that line until a significant difference in transmission and severity is reported.

Here’s what we know so far about the XE recombinant version of Omicron.

What is a recombinant option?

All viruses mutate and have subvariants that have a different genetic composition from the original variant, but have a common origin.

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A recombinant variant is created when two variants infect the same cell in the body at the same time, Bach said.

Read more: Omicron: How does it compare to other dangerous variants of COVID-19?

“Recombinant variants are not uncommon, especially when there are several variants in circulation and several have been identified in the course of the pandemic,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency, in a statement on March 25th.

“As with other types of options, most will disappear relatively quickly,” she added.

XE is a combination of mainly the spike protein – which is responsible for entering cells – of BA.2, but also has genes of BA.1, said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam during a press conference. in Tuesday.

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Based on early analysis, XE is about 10 percent more transmissible than BA.2, according to the WHO.

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As of April 5, 1,125 cases of HE have been identified in the United Kingdom, according to the latest report from the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency.

Read more: Canada finds cases of BA.2. What do we know about this sub-variant of Omicron

UKHSA said XE has been identified as the basis for community transfer and possible growth in England. The agency estimates a growth rate of 12.6% above that of BA.2, which drives the sixth wave of COVID-19 in Canada.

However, the WHO, PHAC and UKHSA say more data is needed to confirm increased transmissibility.

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Although only six cases have been reported in Canada, Bach estimates that the number is likely to be much higher due to a lack of testing.

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A higher level of transmission means there will be more virus in the environment and more people can become infected, he explained.

Weight, effectiveness of the vaccine

So far, there is not enough evidence to conclude whether XE can cause more severe disease or affect the effectiveness of the vaccine, experts say.

The PHAC said researchers were looking for signs that XE altered the severity of the disease, its transmission, or affected the effectiveness of diagnostic tests, vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.

“At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be heavier or heavier than the other (BA.2),” Bach said.

Read more: Vaccinated Canadians may have symptoms of COVID-19 despite a negative test. that’s why

However, every time the virus changes, there is a risk that vaccines that are designed to target the original COVID-19 strain from Wuhan will be less effective, he added.

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“Now you have two different parts – they are glued together, basically and that’s a concern.” because we already see that the Omicron vaccine is not as effective.

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An increasing number of studies show that vaccines against COVID-19 are opposed to the Omicron variant, at least among people who have received booster vaccines. But it showed that the two-dose protection fell away after a few months.

That’s why public health officials and experts recommend boosters along with camouflage and good ventilation as a form of protection.

“This virus is still with us, circulating at a really high level, and we need to use all the tools we have,” said Dr. Maria Van Vercochwe, WHO’s technical director for COVID-19, in a YouTube video last week. .

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“Vaccinations remain critical and are incredibly effective in preventing serious illness and death,” she added.

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