New Delhi: Another variant of Covid has emerged, creating panic around the world over a fourth wave of infections and prompting nations to step up screening at airports.
The XE Covid variant, which is said to be highly transmissible, is blamed for an increase in cases in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Germany. In India, two states – Maharashtra and Gujarat – claimed to have each detected one case of the XE Covid variant.
In fact, XE is a combination or a recombinant of the Omicron sub-variants – BA.1 and BA.2.
Even though experts said there was no need to panic, XE is among the many coronavirus variants identified since December 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a number of prominent variants, including Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron.
What is a Variant of Covid?
As viruses spread, they themselves produce more copies. During this process, they mutate, causing new copies of the virus to not be an exact replica of the original or parent virus. A different copy of the original virus is called a variant.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has undergone this type of mutation several times over the past two years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) names new coronavirus variants using the letters of the Greek alphabet, starting with the Alpha variant, which emerged in 2020.
READ | XE Variant Another version of Omicron, precautions still needed: Health Minister Mandaviya
How many variants of Covid have been detected so far?
So far, 10 major variants of Covid-19 have been detected by the WHO and two – Delta (B.1.617.2) and Omicron (B.1.1.529) – have been classified as variants of concern.
The 10 variants are B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427 and B.1.429 (Epsilon), B.1.525 (Eta), B.1.526 (Iota ), B.1.617.1 (Kappa), B.1.617.3, P.2 (Zeta) and B.1.621 and B.1.621.1 (Mu).
Alpha Covid Variant
Alpha (B.1.1.7) was the first major variant of Covid-19 detected in the UK in November 2020, leading to an increase in cases across the world. It quickly became the dominant variant in most countries, including India and the United States.
According to the WHO, the Alpha variant is 30 to 50% more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. It was designated a variant of concern in December 2020.
In terms of severity, those infected with the Alpha variant required hospitalization, with experts saying the variant was deadlier than the original virus.
Covid beta variant
First identified in South Africa in early 2020, Beta or B.1.351 has been classified as a variant of concern due to its numerous mutations and ability to evade antibodies.
According to the US CDC, the beta variant is around 50% more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus and is more likely to lead to hospitalization and death.
Variant Gamma Covid
Gamma was designated as a variant of concern in January 2021, after it was first detected in Brazil. Although not lethal like Alpha and Beta, the Gamma variant is said to be 1.7 to 2.4 times more transmissible than non-variants of concern.
Delta Covid Variant
Responsible for the second deadly wave of Covid infections across the world, the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant was first identified in India in early 2021. In March 2021, it became the predominant version of the coronavirus in several countries, overwhelming hospitals and leading to mass deaths.
The variant spreads faster and is more than twice as contagious as previous variants. Studies suggest that Delta doubles the risk of hospitalization compared to Alpha and that vaccines are slightly less effective at preventing infection.
Omicron Covid Variant
Omicron has spread across the world at a faster rate than previous variants after being detected in November 2021 in Gauteng Province in South Africa. Even though Omicron causes less severe disease, it has a large number of spike protein mutations and is highly infectious.
Omicron carries an increased risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern. It has few major offshoots including BA.1, BA.2 (now globally dominant) and BA.3.
Recently, two more subvariants – BA.4 and BA.5 – discovered in South Africa are being monitored by the WHO because of their “additional mutations”, Reuters reported.
The UK Health Security Agency said BA.4 was found in South Africa, Denmark, Botswana, Scotland and England from January 10 to March 30.
BA.5 has been detected in South Africa and Botswana. The BA.4 and BA.5 cases reported in South Africa had mild symptoms. However, everyone who contracted the variants was fully vaccinated.
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