Covid-19 on the rise: From XBB to BF.7, new Omicron variants explained

Cases are increasing globally; however, WHO says there is no evidence to suggest that the disease has increased in severity

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Published: Thu 22 Dec 2022, 1:55 PM

Covid-19 cases are on the rise around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the 'variant of concern' at the moment is the Omicron variant, which includes its subvariants.

A discussion held by WHO's Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) recently focused on how the evolution of the variant is currently unfolding — in particular, the public health implications of the rise of some variants, like XBB and BQ.1.


XBB

According to the health organisation, XBB is a recombinant of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sublineages. It has a global prevalence of 1.3% and it has been detected in 35 countries. It noted "some early evidence on clinical severity and reinfection risk from Singapore and India", but added that the variant has not yet been consistently associated with an increase in new infections.

While further studies are needed, the current data does not suggest there are substantial differences in disease severity for XBB infections, it said. There is, however, early evidence pointing at a higher reinfection risk, as compared to other circulating Omicron sublineages. Cases of reinfection were primarily limited to those with initial infection in the pre-Omicron period.


BQ.1

BQ.1 is a sublineage of BA.5. It has a prevalence of 6% and it has been detected in 65 countries. The variant is showing a "significant growth advantage" over other circulating Omicron sublineages across Europe and the US, and therefore warrants close monitoring.

The WHO added, however, that at this time, there is no epidemiologic data to suggest an increase in disease severity. Protection by vaccines against infection may be reduced but no major impact on protection against severe disease is foreseen, it said.

The WHO panel ended with the conclusion that the treatment required for the subvariants XBB and BQ.1 does not differ from the treatment of Omicron. However, it requested countries to continue to be vigilant, to monitor and report sequences, as well as to conduct independent and comparative analyses of the different Omicron sublineages.

What about the BF.7 variant?

There has been an alarming surge in Covid cases in China, Japan, South Korea, France and the United States.

The spike is being blamed on new Omicron sub-variant BF.7, which has also been detected in four Indian states over the last six months.

Amid the fresh Covid scare, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya chaired a high-level meeting to review the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the country and the preparedness of the public health system for surveillance, containment and management of the pandemic.

He urged people to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Emphasising that the pandemic is not over yet, he asked officials to be fully geared up to challenge and step up surveillance.

Sources said there are currently 10 different variants of Covid-19 in the country, with the latest being BF.7.

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