Omicron XE: How Concerning Is The So-Called ‘Frankenstein’ Covid-19 Variant?

The name “Frankenstein” may build up frightening images. For example, telling your significant other, “hey, your face has that Frankenstein look today” could end up being quite scary for you. So now that some have dubbed the relatively new Omicron XE Covid-19 coronavirus variant the “Frankenstein” variant, should you be particularly worried?

Well, first of all, the XE is not going to turn you into Frankenstein’s monster. You won’t suddenly wake up one day with bolts in your neck and a head that’s flat enough to rest a plate of hot dog franks. Something like that will not occur, assuming that you aren’t using ecstasy. XE may sound like a new version of Microsoft Windows. But before you download in your pants, don’t let the monstrous moniker mislead you. While Frankenstein’s monster may have been created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, there’s no evidence that the XE variant was produced in a laboratory.

Instead, the XE is something that was totally expected to arise naturally, especially with many people abandoning Covid-19 precautions as if they were leaving a theater showing the movie Morbius. With the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron variants circulating so widely, it was only a matter of time before they found themselves in the same human and started knocking spikes together, so to speak. When two different versions of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infect the same cell, they can swap their genetic material so that their progeny end up with a new combination. Scientists call the XE a recombinant because it is result of the BA.1 and BA.2 “swapping right” with each other and “recombining” their genetic material. The XE contains BA.1 mutations for NSP1-6 and BA.2 mutations for the rest of its genome. Also present are three mutations that neither the BA.1 nor the BA.2 have: NSP3 V1069I (non-synonymous) and C3241T (synonymous), and NSP12 C14599T (synonymous).

This certainly wasn’t the first time that such a thing has occurred. For example, just last month, I described for Forbes another recombination between the Delta GK/AY.4 and Omicron GRA/BA.1 lineages mixed to form the then dubbed “Deltacron” recombinant. In fact, there’s been Wheel of Misfortune of Delta and BA.1 recombinants ranging from XD to XF to XS.

First detected in England January 19 2022, the XE variant has been spreading in the U.K. According to the U.K. Health Security Agency, from January 15 through the end of March, the amount of XE compared to BA.2 in tested samples in the U.K. grew by an average of 12.6% per week with a 20.9% increase per week over the last three weeks of March. As of April 5, the U.K. had 1,179 documented cases of XE, and England had 1,125 documented XE cases. The spread of the XE does suggest that it may be more transmissible than the BA.2. A World Health Organization (WHO) report from March 29 stated that “early-day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of ~10% as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation.” At this time, the WHO hasn’t listed the XE as a separate “variant of interest” or “variant of concern.” There just isn’t enough information yet, and it’s not clear how widely the XE has spread so far. The WHO report did add that “XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported.” So more studies are needed to determine whether the XE is indeed more contagious, whether it is more likely to cause more severe Covid-19 outcomes, and how effective immune protection from vaccination or prior infection may be against XE.

One thing’s for sure, new recombinants and new variants in general of the SARS-CoV-2 will continue to emerge like bad reality TV shows. The SARS-CoV-2 has a high mutation rate. Similar to a drunk person trying to make photocopies of his or her butt, the virus can make mistakes whenever it tries to reproduce. The resulting copies of the virus then may have somewhat different genetic material. And new genetic material can give these new copies different properties. That’s why scientists warned years before 2020 about the possibility of some type of coronavirus jumping from other animals to humans to cause a pandemic.

Now just because new variants will keep emerging indefinitely doesn’t mean that the pandemic and Covid-19 precautions will last forever. The road to the end of the pandemic is maintaining Covid-19 precautions until enough of our immune systems go from virginal to “been there, done that” when it comes to the SARS-CoV02. This cold occur something this year through a combination of people having gotten vaccinated or repeatedly infected with the virus. Of course, the problem with the get infected route right now is the whole potentially dying thing or the months and months of brain fog, fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, and other long Covid symptom thing. So encouraging each other to get vaccinated against Covid-19 remains the best way to shorten the duration of the pandemic and the length of time Covid-19 precautions like face mask wearing will be needed or recommended.

At this point, the “Frankenstein” name is probably not that appropriate for the XE variant. It’s not as if there’s going to be a Dracula variant, a werewolf variant, a mummy variant, a Tinder swindler variant, a douchebag variant, or any other type of monster variant. The emergence of the XE is a frank reminder that the pandemic is not over yet. And that you should do what you should have been doing all along, maintaining appropriate Covid-19 precautions.

Reference-www.forbes.com

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