A new covid variant called Omicron XE has been discovered in the UK

Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

Just when things were starting to feel a bit more 'normal' again, the coronavirus pandemic throws another spanner in the works – in the form of a newly discovered variant called Omicron XE. Initially detected back in January, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there have been over 760 cases confirmed in England so far and a handful in Thailand and China.

It appears that this new form of Covid-19 is actually a combination of two separate variants, XE and Omicron. XE is formed of a mix of BA.1 (responsible for the initial Omicron wave towards the end of 2021) and the highly infectious BA.2 strain.

Although it's still early days, the data gathered so far (by health officials and the World Health Organization) suggests it could be the fastest-spreading Covid variant yet. However, experts are cautioning that it's still too soon to say just how much of a risk the variant is, or could become, and so have pledged to 'continue to monitor' the situation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said: "Early-day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of 10% as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation. XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported.

"WHO continues to closely monitor and assess the public health risk associated with recombinant variants, alongside other SARS-CoV-2 variants, and will provide updates as further evidence becomes available."

Photo credit: PEPE_GUINEA - Getty Images
Photo credit: PEPE_GUINEA - Getty Images

Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency), added, "This particular recombinant, XE, has shown a variable growth rate and we cannot yet confirm whether it has a true growth advantage. So far there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about transmissibility, severity or vaccine effectiveness."

What are the symptoms of Omicron XE?

As it stands, no unique symptoms have been associated with Omicron XE in particular. However, as a reminder of the symptoms linked to Omicron:

  • Sore throat

  • Aching muscles

  • A stuffy nose

  • An upset stomach

  • Loose stools

Speaking previously about Omicron on BBC 4, Sir John Bell (a Professor of Medicine at Oxford University) suggested that muscle pain, particularly around the back, is a "distinguishing feature" of Omicron – although he pointed out that health experts do not know why that is.

A reminder, if ever there was one, to keep wearing a mask in busy spaces and washing your hands, people!

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