Experts suspect Omicron BA.2, recombinant XE behind Kerala Covid resurgence

Vinson Kurian |V.Sajeev Kumar | Updated on: Apr 19, 2022
Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, Convener, Scientific Committee and former President, IMA Kochi, 

Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, Convener, Scientific Committee and former President, IMA Kochi,  | Photo Credit: Sanjeevekumar P S 10198@Kochi

‘Mask not only protects wearer, but reduces total viral load indoors’

Kerala has not done a genetic analysis of the Covid variant that struck during the last three or four days leading to a spurt in active cases and spike in deaths, but experts suspect the Omicron BA.2, or better the still the recombinant XE, to be the villain.

Dr TS Anish, Member of the State Covid Task Force, and Assistant Professor, Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, said he has come across the case of an XE in a person with no travel history. “This means that XE is transmitting in the State. And XE has been known for the speed with which it transmits. This person had taken the first vaccine but missed out on the second. But even people with a double dose are susceptible,” he said.

Long weekend set ground

The long weekend with the State observing Good Friday and celebrating Vishu the same day saw the people-to-people interactions drive up to a new peak, setting up a favourable context for the variant XE to spread at furious pace.

But Anish does not see a public health emergency emerging just yet. Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, Convener, Scientific Committee and former President, IMA Kochi, agreed that the BA.2 and its sub-lineages are the prevailing variants in India. They are all part of the Omicron family, but slightly faster spreading than the original Omicron variant.

Omicron has multiple different lineages, or genetically related subvariants. This includes the original Omicron BA.1 (B.1.1.529) and also BA.2 and BA.3. Currently, BA.2 is more infectious than BA.1 and has now become the new dominant form of the Covid virus worldwide. XE is a recombination of BA.1 and BA.2.

Asymptomatic spread

According to Jayadevan, there is a large amount of asymptomatic virus spread in communities around the world. Only a small fraction of these have symptoms, and among these, a fraction get tested and among the antigen tests performed, there is substantial false negatives. In other words, the officially reported cases will be only a fraction of the true Omicron caseload in any region.

Asked if the weekend fesitivities have been a likely trigger, he said the virus has no geopolitical boundaries. It spreads wherever people gather, especially in indoor settings, without masks. This is because the mode of spread is aerosol-based, and these are generated when people meet up together and talk indoors. The risk of transmission is much lower outdoors because of free air circulation.

“In spite of the Ministry of Health’s advice, mask-wearing has fallen to near-zero levels, even during indoor gatherings. There is so much denial too. Science is often inconvenient, and the virus does not care for our personal preferences,” Jayadevan said.

Mask more than protects

As far as virus spread goes, what matters is whether masks are being worn indoors where people gather. Masks not only protect the wearer, but also reduce the total viral load in the indoor air. “As an uptick is now on the cards, we need to undertake whatever measures are necessary to get people to wear masks at least in indoor settings. This is especially important to protect the vulnerable people in any society, let’s not forget they have equal rights as young and healthy people to stay alive and safe,” Jayadevan said.

Published on April 18, 2022
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