Omicron XE Is On The Rise – Here's What We Know About It

Here we go again.
Body aches have been added to the new list of Covid symptoms.
krisanapong detraphiphat via Getty Images
Body aches have been added to the new list of Covid symptoms.

Covid cases may have dropped 31% from the previous week but numbers still remain high, with 184,761 cases in the past seven days.

Not long ago we were facing pandemic highs, with the beginning of April seeing a whopping 4.9 million people in the UK contracting the virus, according to the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in every 15 people were infected in the week ending April 9.

Experts say this high number of cases is down to both a relaxation of Covid rules plus a previous Omicron BA.2 sub-variant known as the ‘Stealth’ variant.

And now there’s a new Covid variant is in town, and it’s spreading among thousands.

Omicron XE is mixture of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains and known as a “recombinant” variant (meaning it brings together multiple mutations).

How many people currently have Omicron XE?

In early April, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there was a total of 637 cases of XE confirmed in the UK.

The earliest of these was spotted on January 19, 2022. Now, this figure has climbed.

In the UK, a total of 1,179 cases of XE have been confirmed so far. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the variant may be more transmissible and it’s likely to be the dominant strain.

What are the symptoms of Omicron XE?

No distinguished features of the XE variant have been listed so far, but symptoms may be similar to previous Omicron strains including runny noses, sneezing and sore throats.

Like the original Omicron strain (BA.1), the primary symptoms of a mild BA.2 infection are a cough, fever, fatigue and possible loss of taste or smell. A runny nose, gastrointestinal issues, headache and a skin rash are other common signs and symptoms. Those are pretty similar to what people experience with a cold or other seasonal viruses.

Don’t forget that other Covid symptoms have also been added to the NHS, including

  • A high temperature

  • A new continuous cough

  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

  • A shortness of breath

  • Feeling tired or exhausted

  • An aching body

  • A headache

  • A sore throat

  • A blocked or runny nose

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhoea

  • Feeling sick or being sick

How fast is it spreading?

The World Health Organisation said early tests showed XE could be more transmissible.

In a previous report, they said: “Early-day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of 10% as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation.

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

UKHSA said recent data showed the new variant had a growth rate of 9.8% above BA.2. But it also stressed that it’s too soon to draw conclusions about its growth.

The agency said: “This estimate has not remained consistent as new data have been added, it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of growth advantage for the recombinant. Numbers were too small for the XE recombinant to be analysed by region.”

Omicron SE cases have also been detected in Thailand.

Should we be worried?

While the record-high numbers of cases are a general worry, it’s too early to say whether this new variant is any more dangerous than the last, say experts.

Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor, said: “Recombinant variants are not an unusual occurrence, particularly when there are several variants in circulation, and several have been identified over the course of the pandemic to date. As with other kinds of variant, most will die off relatively quickly.

“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.

“UKHSA will continue to monitor the situation closely as a matter of routine, as we do all data relating to SARS-CoV-2 variants both in the UK and internationally.”