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new cases What you need to know about new Omicron XE Covid strain and symptoms

The subvariant is now believed to be circulating in the north and south

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A health worker standing in an intensive care unit at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

A health worker standing in an intensive care unit at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

A health worker standing in an intensive care unit at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

A new Covid subvariant Omicron XE is believed to be circulating in the Republic of Ireland, while a number of cases have been confirmed in the UK.

The new, more transmissible strain of the Omicron variant has more than 1,200 confirmed cases in the UK to date. There is one confirmed case in the Republic of Ireland but the UK is understood to be ahead in sequencing.

Here is everything you need to know:

  • What is Omicron XE?

Omicron XE is a so-called recombinant variant which occurs when an individual becomes infected with two or more variants at the same time.

This results in a mixing of their genetic material within the patient’s body.

Several recombinant variants have been identified over the course of the pandemic, so this is not unusual.

XE is a recombinant of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains, with BA.2 driving most of the UK’s cases.

  • How many cases have there been?

The new, more transmissible strain of the Omicron variant has more than 1,200 confirmed cases in the UK to date. There have been less than five cases confirmed in Northern Ireland.

There is one confirmed case in the Republic of Ireland, but the UK is understood to be ahead in sequencing.

The earliest of these confirmed cases in the UK has a specimen date of January 19 this year.

This is likely to be only a tiny fraction of overall cases.

The hybrid strain has also been detected in Thailand and Hong Kong.

  • How transmissible is Omicron XE?

In a report published March 29, the WHO said of XE: “Early-day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of ~10% as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation.

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“XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported.”

UK health officials said modelling of data between January 15 and March 15 showed XE could have a median growth rate of 9.8% over BA.2.

However, Chief Medical Advisor at the UKHSA Professor Susan Hopkins said: “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.”

  • Does XE have any new symptoms?

It is not currently thought that the sub-variant comes with new symptoms, although much is not yet known about XE.

Frequently reported symptoms of the original strain of Omicron are cold-like, particularly for those who have been vaccinated.

The NHS has recently updated its symptoms list of Covid with an additional nine symptoms.

Now the list of potential signs include shortness of breath, feeling tired or exhausted and an aching body among others, alongside a high temperature, a change in taste or smell, or a persistent new cough.

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