New COVID Variant Found in U.K.: Omicron XE

Symptoms include shortness of breath, feeling tired, loss of appetite.

QUICK FACTS:
  • A new Covid-19 variant combination of two different omicron strains was identified in the United Kingdom in mid-January, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
  • Symptoms listed on the National Health Service (NHS) include nine new symptoms, including sore throat, fatigue, and headache, which have been added to what was there already: fever, a new and persistent cough, and a loss or change in taste or smell, according to nhs.uk.
  • A note on the website says Omicron XE’s “symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”
  • Omicron XE has been confirmed in more than 600 cases in England since its discovery, amounting to less than 1% of virus samples analyzed during that time, Forbes reports.
  • As of March 22, 763 samples of XE had been identified in the U.KBritish public health officials and the World Health Organization argue Omicron XE could be the fastest-spreading Covid variant yet, based on early data.
  • But experts warn it is too early to determine if or how much of a threat the variant might be, Forbes notes, as Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA, said more data will be needed to confirm whether XE has a “true growth advantage,” as it has only shown a “variable growth rate” thus far.
  • Nevertheless, early data from the UKHSA and WHO suggests Omicron XE could be around 10% more transmissible than the BA.2 omicron subvariant (also known as “stealth omicron”), which is said to be the most contagious Covid variant and even one of the most contagious diseases in human history.
WHAT IS OMICRON XE?:
  • Omicron XE is a recombinant virus, meaning it’s a combination of genetic material from two or more different viruses, according to Forbes.
  • The variant contains elements of the original omicron strain, BA.1, as well as the more infectious BA.2 subvariant.
BACKGROUND:
  • A small number of cases have reportedly been found in China and Thailand, Forbes notes.
  • There isn’t also insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion on transmissibility, severity, or vaccine effectiveness, Hopkins said, adding that the UKHSA will continue to monitor the situation “closely.”