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Omicron XE variant: a leading immunologist explains what we know about this hybrid variant

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COVID19 instances continue to rise across the country. The existing variants are becoming ever more difficult to distinguish from the common cold or influenza virus due to generic symptoms, but is the latest Omicron XE recombinant any different?

According to Denis Kinane, a prominent immunologist and the founder of Cignpost Diagnostics, here’s what we know about it so far.

Omicron XE – what it is?

The latest ‘XE’ variant is a mix between the two well-known Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains, albeit the latter is currently dominant in the US and other nations.

According to the expert, “The new variant Covid XE is a mutation of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains – and is referred to as a “recombinant”.

“This means the new recombinant variant picks up characteristics associated with each strain, but is not always a more dangerous version.”

When a virus’s genes alter or mutation occurs, the virus becomes a variant.

Omicron, for example, has a huge number of mutations and is genetically distinct from prior forms, such as Delta.

According to the most recent data, Omicron has around 50 mutations, the majority of which are in the spike protein, which is how the virus enters human cells in the first place.

According to Denis, the spike protein is the virus’s most visible external feature that human immune system recognizes, responds to, and uses to build antibodies.

Because of these mutations, unique types might sometimes present with novel or unusual symptoms.

Omicron XE symptoms?

Mutations in the spike protein can cause the virus to penetrate certain human cells more efficiently; for example, some strains infect upper respiratory tract cells more efficiently than lung lining cells.

Most of the symptoms of the existing Covid version have been compared to a regular cold, and Dennis claims that Omicron XE is no exception.

He added: “This variant comes with slightly different symptoms, which are thought to be more like a cold, with runny noses and sneezing being the most commonly reported.

“The new variant’s symptoms can also include a sore throat, with symptoms having changed since the first reporting on the virus.”

Initially, COVID-19 was related with only three primary symptoms:

  • A new, or continuous cough
  • Fever
  • A loss or change in your smell or taste

How it is different from Delta and other Omicron variants?

XE is a hybrid of the two now well-known strains of Omicron, whereas Delta and Omicron are forms of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) that have gained mutations.

Because of the genetics and the way they impact the infected individual, the symptoms of XE are usually distinct from those associated with the original Omicron and Delta strains.

With millions more individuals in the US now vaccinated, the virus can reveal itself in very different ways than it did when it first hit the country.

Denis added: “It should be noted that symptoms are never just related to the version of the virus but also relate to a subject’s genetics.

“Previous exposure to viruses and their vaccination status can both modify symptoms so it is never safe to suggest any set of symptoms are indicative of a particular strain, and testing and sequencing are needed for this differentiation.”

While it can be difficult to distinguish one strain from another based solely on symptoms, Denis believes that the best way to tell Covid apart from the common cold is to keep testing.

He said: “Anyone experiencing cold-like symptoms, who is concerned about the possibility of having Covid-19 and passing the virus on to others, should look to take either a PCR or lateral flow test.

“This is the only way to determine which virus you are carrying and to ensure you are acting in the safest, most sensible manner.”

Image Credit: Getty

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