A recent study by experts in India has led to the revelation that XE, a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 could be displaying a different set of symptoms than Omicron and may trigger a loss in smell and taste, symptoms which were prominent features of the deadly Delta variant
Notably, this revelation comes to the fore as the first case of the XE variant is detected in Gujarat. Even as INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium) has advised the public to avoid panic in the wake of the emergence of a new covid variant and has assured that it is keeping a close watch on the variant with a focus on its severity and need for hospitalization, experts are of the opinion that people should look out for the symptoms of the XE variant which may be different from Omicron.
What is the XE Variant?
The XE variant is a mutation of the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron strains, referred to as a “recombinant”. As per the initial studies, the XE variant has a growth rate of 9.8 percent over that of BA.2, also known as the stealth variant because of its ability to evade detection, however, so far it has not shown severe traits. According to the World Health Organization, the first strain of this variant was detected in the United Kingdom on January 19 and so far more than 600 cases of this strain have been reported.
A Traveling Variant: Know the Symptoms
Dubbed as the traveling variant, this newest variant of Covid-19 had risen its head in countries across the globe from Thailand to the UK to New Zealand before staking a claim in India. One of the most telltale signs of this variant is that people afflicted with this virus experience loss of smell and taste, a symptom common to the Delta variant which was responsible to drive the second wave of the Covid pandemic in India. Other symptoms are the same as that seen in any Covid patient like fever, sore throat, scratchy throat, cough and cold, skin irritation and discoloration, gastrointestinal distress, etc.
Inconsistency in Symptoms
Medics are of opinion that the inconsistency or variability of symptoms in the XE variant of Covid could be a result of its recombinant nature. RN Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) intensivist Sauren Panja while talking to TOI noted that the XE variant might be displaying a loss of smell or taste because mutant sub-variants tend to have the properties of the original strain.
“During the third wave, there had been some cases of Deltacron or a variant which is a combination of the Delta and Omicron. We know that Delta had triggered the loss of taste and smell and it’s possible that XE carries some characteristics of Delta,” Panja told TOI.
More Transmissible, Less Mild
Even though the detection of the XE variant is a cause of concern for India, experts are of the opinion that the severity of this variant will depend of the level of vaccination and since in India a majority have been vaccinated twice with a few of the senior citizens getting the booster shots, XE is more likely to be mild in nature.
Talking to TOI, Peerless Hospital microbiologist Bhaskar Narayan Chaudhuri asserted that unlike symptoms like diarrhea and skin irritation, a loss of taste and smell will make it easy to identify the variant which is likely to be very mild, similar to that of the common cold.
“A vast majority of our population have been infected by Omicron less than three months ago and are likely to have antibody resistance. Due to very high transmissibility, a large number could still be affected but severity and mortality could be negligible,” he added.
Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced Centre’s decision to expand booster doses to all adults. The move to expand the coverage of booster doses is also seen as an extra step to ensure protection amid the XE variant. It is being considered that the third shot will reduce severe illness, hospitalizations, and death, even if they do not offer complete protection against the sub-variant of Omicron.