(WXYZ) — The new omicron variant XE has spread to Japan. It was first detected in the United Kingdom in mid-January, and the latest statistics indicate British cases have nearly doubled.
The Japanese health ministry has reported its first case of the new XE subvariant. And here’s what I know so far. The woman is in her thirties and traveled to Japan from the US. She tested positive for COVID after landing at the Narita International Airport. She was asymptomatic and she was also fully vaccinated, having received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
Now, it’s not a surprise that the XE subvariant is popping up in other countries. So far, it’s been detected in Thailand, India, and Israel. However, the US has not reported any cases of XE. According to the CDC’s website, the subvariant is not currently being monitored. But that doesn’t mean it’s not here, especially since the woman who was found infected with this subvariant in Japan had traveled there from the US.
I don’t think there is any reason to worry at this time. XE is recombinant meaning it’s a mix of two strains. Recombinants are not uncommon to happen, especially when there are high caseloads and multiple strains circulating. In fact, we’ve seen recombinants develop before and many have died out.
However, with XE, that has not happened. That could be because XE is a mix of Omicron’s highly infectious strains BA.1 and BA.2. And while we don’t know for sure how infectious XE is, data from the UK shows cases of the new strain have almost doubled. Now, that may sound scary but looking at the numbers, less than 1,200 cases have been reported there.
Still, we shouldn’t dismiss preliminary research that indicates XE might be the fastest spreading strain to emerge. And the World Health Organization has estimated XE to be about 10% more transmissible than BA.2. However, studies are underway to find out exactly how contagious this variant is.
The good news is that experts believe XE is less severe. Its spike and structural proteins are similar to its parental virus, Omicron. This means our vaccines should continue to provide protection against severe illness and hospitalization.
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