COVID-19 cases are continuing to climb across the country, despite the end of the free testing regime making infections harder to track. Generic symptoms are making the existing variants even harder to tell apart from the common cold or influenza virus, but is the latest Omicron XE recombinant any different? These are the known symptoms of Omicron XE according to Denis Kinane, leading Immunologist and Founding Scientist of Cignpost Diagnostics.
What is Omicron XE?
The latest ‘XE’ variant is a hybrid variant of the two well-known strains of Omicron BA.1 and BA.2, though the latter is now less common in the UK, and dominant in the USA along with several other countries.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Denis Kinane said: “The new variant Covid XE is a mutation of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains – and is referred to as a “recombinant”.
“This means the new recombinant variant picks up characteristics associated with each strain, but is not always a more dangerous version.”
Variants of viruses occur when there is a change or mutation to the virus’s genes.
For example, Omicron has a large number of mutations and is very genetically different from previous versions, including Delta.
The latest data shows that Omicron has more than 50 mutations, many of which are in the spike protein -which is how the virus gets into our cells in the first place.
The spike protein is the most prominent exterior feature of the virus that our immune system recognises, responds to and uses to develop antibodies, said Denis.
It is these very mutations that mean the different variants can often come with new or unique symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Omicron XE?
Mutations on the spike protein can mean the virus invades different human cells more efficiently, for example some variants enter cells of the upper respiratory tract more efficiently than the lung lining.
Most symptoms of the existing Covid variant have been likened to the common cold, and according to Dennis, Omicron XE is no different.
He said: “This variant comes with slightly different symptoms, which are thought to be more like a cold, with runny noses and sneezing being the most commonly reported.
“The new variant’s symptoms can also include a sore throat, with symptoms having changed since the first reporting on the virus.”
Originally there were just three main symptoms associated with COVID-19, including:
- A new, or continuous cough
- A loss or change in your smell or taste
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Denis said: “It should be noted that symptoms are never just related to the version of the virus but also relate to a subject’s genetics.
“Previous exposure to viruses and their vaccination status can both modify symptoms so it is never safe to suggest any set of symptoms are indicative of a particular strain, and testing and sequencing are needed for this differentiation.”
While it can be hard to spot one strain from the next based on symptoms alone, Denis said the best way to tell Covid apart from the common cold is to continue testing.
He said: “Anyone experiencing cold-like symptoms, who is concerned about the possibility of having Covid-19 and passing the virus on to others, should look to take either a PCR or lateral flow test.
“This is the only way to determine which virus you are carrying and to ensure you are acting in the safest, most sensible manner.”