Leeds (UK). In late October, the UK Health Protection Agency announced two new variants of Omicron, named BQ1 and XBB. This means that health officials will keep an eye on them. However, at the moment they are not considered as worrying variants. If the different variants of Omicron are considered as a family, the BA2 variant (the variant currently dominant in the UK) that became dominant in the UK this spring is the parent of BA.5 and BQ.1 is its descendant. In other words, BQ. 1 B.A. 5 is a sub-variant.
XBB is a hybrid variant of Omicron’s two sub-variants ba.2.10.1 and ba.2.75. So the XBB is the second descendant of BA.2. Thus xxb and bq.1 come from the same family and are ‘cousins’. A hybrid variant is formed when parts of the genetic material of two different sub-variants mix together. We have seen this happen in the past with the corona virus, which is denoted by a different name starting with “X” (eg XD, XE and XF).
Are they worrying?
But what should we understand about these variants? Let us first know how they are spreading. In the UK, Europe and North America, outbreaks of BQ.1 are increasing rapidly. Recent figures from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that 16.7 percent of infections in the country are from BQ.1 sub-lineages (including BQ.1 and BQ.1.1) while in the US, BQ.1 and BQ. About 35 percent of the cases of infection were reported from .1.1.
The outbreak of XBB is more visible in Asia. ONS figures show that 0.7 percent of cases of infection with XBB have been reported in the UK. Of the recent cases of infection reported in Singapore, 58 percent were of the XBB variant, but on the one hand, there is an increase in XBB cases around the world, on the other hand its cases have started decreasing in Singapore. Scientists are closely monitoring the different areas where both these variants are being found to see where more cases are being reported.
What is the difference between BQ.1 and XBB?
Omicron variants are successful because of several shared mutations in the ‘receptor-binding domain’ of the spike protein (a protein on the surface of the virus, which allows it to enter our cells). The receptor-binding domain (RBD) is an important part of the virus, which is located on the spike protein. The spike protein lets the RBD bind to the body’s receptor, after which it enters cells and spreads the infection. There is an important difference between Bq.1 and Xcb in terms of their mutation and spread in different places. Through the spike protein, the virus infects our cells and targets our antibodies that protect against diseases.
A recent study suggests that mutations within the receptor-binding domain may aid XBB in neutralizing antibodies generated by COVID vaccines. The study said that among all the variants of the corona virus we have seen, XBB is at the forefront of dodging antibodies.
Should we be concerned with XBB?
Compared to BQ.1 and its parent variant BA.5, XBB is more susceptible to evading the immune system, allowing it to spread much deeper, leading to virus outbreaks. The good news is that based on data from Singapore, XBB is estimated to have a 30 percent lower risk of hospitalization compared to a BA.5, but we don’t have data for other countries yet, so this may be the case. The XBB may take on a wider gamut.
There may be a second wave of corona virus in Britain
There is also a possibility that Britain may face a double wave of corona virus in the coming times. One of these waves can be generated from BQ.1 spread in Europe and America, while the other wave can be from XBB spread in Asia. In such a situation, only time can tell us whether the XBB will replace the BA.5 or BQ.1, or whether there is another variant waiting to spread its footing.
Tags: corona virus, Omicron variant, UK news, WHO
FIRST PUBLISHED : November 14, 2022, 05:00 IST