A new omicron subvariant called XE has been detected in the U.K., causing new concern for what it may mean for the U.S.
So far, 637 patients have been reported to have the XE variant, according to recent statistics from the U.K. Health Security Agency. XE is a recombination of the BA.1 and BA.2 variants.
Top Boston doctors discussed this emerging variant, what is known about it and what it could mean for the U.S. on Tuesday during NBC10 Boston's weekly "COVID Q&A" series.
Should we be worried about the XE strain?
Brigham and Women's Hospital's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes said the variant, which is a combination of the original BA.1 omicron variant and its subvariant BA.2, is not a surprise and not yet a cause for concern.
"It appears to have risen from this process of recombination," Kuritzkes said. "It's not surprising that this happened (but) it doesn't appear yet that these hybrids are of notable concern but we really won't know until we have time to observe what happens."
Dr. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, agreed, adding that the variant should be just like omicron and nobody should "freak out" by the recombination.
"Although XE is a Greek letter, this is not a newly named variant of concern with a new letter. This is omicron," Doron said. "And, therefore, not so scary because we know omicron. Checking in with some experts, most are not freaked out by this particular recombination."
Is the XE strain more contagious?
Early studies out of the U.K. point to the possibility that XE could be more transmissible than earlier strains.
"There are reasons to think this hybrid could be potentially more transmissible but it may have other weaknesses that make it less likely to get transmitted," Kuritzkes said. "It is omicron, so it should behave the same way as omicron."
The XE variant comes as the U.K. is seeing a spike in cases, leading many to wonder if the U.S could see a similar bump from this recombination, like with previous variants.
"Anything that is anywhere can be here," Doron said. "We always have to be looking very carefully at the U.K. and Europe and assume that we might follow, but it isn't true that we always have the same patterns of curves in terms of cases and hospitalization."
Kuritzkes echoed Doron, warning that people should be cautious of expecting a similar wave in the U.S.
"Although things tend to show up first in Europe and then show up in the United States, they may have different patterns," Kuritzkes said. "It'll depend a lot on what measures people take to protect themselves if we begin to see a significant uptick."
Health authorities across the world have said they are continuing to monitor the situation and will continue updating on any significant developments.