Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization infectious disease epidemiologist, recently called for “sustained surveillance of the (Covid) virus amid Omicron Variants of Concern dominance worldwide”. “With almost 80 per cent of the sequences that are reported worldwide being of the BA.5, and their sub-lineages, XBB is a recombinant of actually two BA.2 sublineages, and specifically, BA.2.10.1 and B.2.75. It is one of the more than 300 sub-lineages of Omicron that we and our partners are tracking worldwide,” she said in the latest video update shared on WHO’s Twitter page.
Latest update from Dr @mvankerkhove on Omicron sub-lineages XBB and BQ.1 ⬇️
In order to track #COVID19 virus evolution and make the right assessment and policies, we need sustained surveillance of the virus – well planned and organised testing and sequencing across the 🌍. pic.twitter.com/RjCQihOl3t
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) October 26, 2022
The message accompanying the video read, “In order to track #Covid19 virus evolution and make the right assessment and policies, we need sustained surveillance of the virus — well-planned and organised testing and sequencing across the globe.”
According to Kerkhove, rising sublineages are “receiving attention, and rightly so”. “Because we do see a growth advantage of XBB and we are seeing increases in case detection in some countries. We don’t see signals of a change in the severity of the XBB recombinant. So, it’s still low levels of circulation. But we need to keep an eye on it because it is Omicron, it has a large number of mutations like all of the Omicron sublineages, and because it has its fitness advantage,” Kerkhove added.
Elaborating on ‘BQ.1’, Kerkhove said that it is a sub-variant of BA.5. “This one also has increased transmissibility,” she said, adding that hospitalisation data worldwide also suggests otherwise. “We don’t see it in any of the data so far. We do see increased transmissions but we don’t see a change in severity. Our diagnostics work. Our vaccines work,” she noted.
Previously, too, the organisation had stated on its website that “WHO has added a new category to its variant tracking system, termed Omicron subvariants under monitoring to signal to public health authorities globally, which VOC lineages may require prioritised attention and monitoring. The main objective of this category is to investigate if these lineages may pose an additional threat to global public health as compared to other circulating viruses”.
Notably, the Omicron strain – which is believed to be responsible for the third wave of infections in India – is widely considered a mild but fast-spreading variant of Covid-19 that was first reported three years ago.
Considering there are not many hospitalisations, “there is nothing to panic as such since scientists are keeping a close watch on its course”, Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, director and head, pulmonology, Fortis Hospitals, Faridabad told indianexpress.com. “However, we need to know that this mutated virus has the potential to mutate into a dangerous variant that can lead to increased morbidity and mortality. Therefore, it is important that we take full dose of covid vaccination, and observe Covid appropriate behaviour,” said Dr Jha.
Agreeing, Dr Monalisa Sahu, consultant infectious diseases, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad said that one must continue to wear masks and and follow stringent precautions, especially among the more vulnerable populations like infants, children, elderly, the pregnant women, along with immunocompromised population and people with other co-morbidities.
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