Just when people were finally breathing a sigh of relief and enjoying the festivities to the fullest, there were reports of yet another Covid variant, Omicron's XBB variant, a recombinant of the previous sister variants BA.2.75 and BJ.1.
Although there have been several cases of the XBB Omicron variant in Australia, the latest news suggests that this sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron has already entered India and is gradually raising concerns of a fresh wave in the upcoming months. Previously, the WHO had designated the COVID-19 Omicron variation as a variant of concern (VOC) since the Omicron cases were transmitting more quickly than any prior variations. The overall risk associated with this variant and its sub-types are still very high, and hence it is necessary to maintain precautions to evade the risk of infection.
According to the latest government statistics, there has been a 17.7 percent hike in Covid-19 cases in the state of Maharashtra between October 10 and October 16, compared to the previous week. And with every passing day, the threat becomes dire since festivities are continuing. Omicron's XBB variant is currently driving a surge in Covid cases in Maharashtra (reporting 18 cases in the first fortnight of October), Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Orissa, and other parts of the country. Several health experts have advised taking all sorts of precautions against this deadly-infectious strain that almost exponentially multiplied the cases in Singapore in a matter of few days.
What Is The XBB Variant?
Like any other viral strain, Covid-19 too keeps on mutating and evolving into a more virulent, transmissible, and devious strain. XBB variant originally belongs to the Omicron lineage, scientifically termed BA.2.10, and is a combination of the previous sub-variants BJ.1 and BA.2.75. With limited information regarding this new sub-strain of Omicron, it is believed that the XBB variant has a growth advantage over the prior BA.2.75 and intense immune evasive property, which enables it to easily surpass the natural immunity of the general populace. It was earlier detected in the US at the beginning of August 2022, and since then, it is gradually taking over other Omicron variants worldwide.
According to the director of A*Star's Bioinformatics Institute, Dr. Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, the new variant is the result of an aggregation of changes in the virus' spike protein surface.
Is XBB Variant More Dangerous Than The Previous Strains?
The latest medical data suggests that the XBB variant of Omicron has more numerous changes in the DNA than the previous Omicron sub-variants. These modifications are especially seen in the receptor binding domain, which is the outer surface of the spike protein.
This strain of Omicron has metamorphosed in such a way that gives it an added advantage to transcend the antibodies augmented through either vaccination or natural infection.
Can XBB Strain Lead To Another Wave In A Few Weeks?
With the current statistics in hand and the festive season in full swing, there is a high chance of an upgrade in the positive cases in the next 3-4 weeks owing to a huge number of gatherings and little to no travel restrictions all over the world. But as of now, the positive cases of the XBB variant are approximately 7% of overall infections, with BA.2.75 being predominantly reported as the major causative strain.
But, then again, if precautions are not carefully obeyed, XBB can lead to infections in previously vaccinated and infected individuals in no time. However, with mild to moderate symptoms reported in recently diagnosed individuals with the Omicron XBB variant, the hospitalization rate and severity of illness is still low as of now.
What Are The Symptoms Of XBB Variation?
Just like the previously diagnosed strains, the Omicron XBB variant characterizes mild to moderate upper respiratory tract symptoms such as sore throat, congestion, shortness of breath, confusion, fatigue, muscle pain, and body ache. Some patients have also reported gastrointestinal manifestations like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Although the symptoms might mimic the ones of the regular flu, they must not be taken lightly and should be reported to the treating doctor at the earliest.
Although some of the reported cases are not that severe, there are special cases where people whose immunity is less or compromised due to some other condition, people who have diabetes, or who are elderly have exhibited intense symptoms and might require hospitalization
What Are The Precautionary Measures To Adopt?
At this point, most of us are well aware of the different Covid-19 precautionary measures but still, some people fail to follow them. They must observe appropriate Covid-19 behaviour at all times. Senior citizens or people with comorbidities need to follow extra precautions while visiting public places. Persons suffering from influenza or flu-like illness should readily avoid public contact as much as possible. These constant mutations in the original Covid strain serve as a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much active. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to get vaccinated when it becomes available and continue to conform to the existing recommendations for curbing the transmission of the virus, including wearing masks, keeping a physical distance, regularly washing hands with soap and water or using sanitizer, and sustaining well-ventilated interior spaces.