XE Wave ‘Likely To Be Mild’ Says Public Health Ministry

Dr Supakit Sirilak
Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences

The Public Health Ministry on Sunday played down concerns raised by the detection of the first case of the XE COVID-19 strain in the country, saying there is no need to panic as it is not believed to result in as many complications as some previous mutations.

The head of the Centre for Medical Genomics (CMG) at Ramathibodi Hospital, which diagnosed the patient found with the strain, said the individual had already made a full recovery.

The rising number of COVID-19 strains only fuels the rapidity of genomic variation as has been evidenced recently by the emergence of Deltacron, a recombinant virus that contains genes from both Delta and Omicron variants, said Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS).

In this case, XE is a recombinant virus of two sublineages of the Omicron variant, BA.1 and BA.2, he said, in response to reports about the detection of the first XE case, which was revealed on Saturday by the CMG.

The DMS is performing genomic sequencing on about 500 virus samples a week, he said, adding the DMS will hold a press briefing today to provide more information about the XE case and its broader implications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had also on Saturday issued a warning over the XE Omicron variant that many in the medical field fear could be the most transmissible yet.

The XE recombinant was first detected in the UK on the 19th of January and less than 600 sequences have been reported and confirmed since, the WHO said.

Wasun Chantratita, the head of the CMG, said they normally receive virus samples for testing about a week after an infection is confirmed, which explains why by the time the results are known, most patients have already nearly recovered.

Anan Jongkaewwattana, an expert with the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec), meanwhile, said those who had already been infected with the sub-variant BA.2 of Omicron may already carry some immunity due to the similarities between the pair BA.2. “Don’t be more afraid of XE than BA.2 as that strain has already been around town,” he said.

Considering a rise in number of patients developing severe symptoms when infected with COVID-19 after a fourth booster shot, he said he recommends delaying seeking further appointments for booster shots until a newer generation of the vaccine is available.

Immunity generated by multiple vaccines may even have an adverse effect and lead to more severe inflammation in those who catch the virus after their shots, he said.

For those who already had two rounds of an inactivated type of COVID-19 vaccine, two more booster shots of other types may be needed, while those who had started with two shots of other types of the vaccine may need only one booster shot for now, he said.

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Sunday recorded 26,840 new cases and 97 deaths.

In another development, the National Health Security Office (NHSO) said it is preparing for an expected rise in the number of new COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. The Songkran festival is thought to be a risk factor in leading to an increase in cases.

Priority in terms of both times given by doctors and specialists as well as access to treatment will be given to new elderly patients, particularly those with underlying health conditions that may exacerbate their symptoms, and children, said NHSO secretary-general Dr Jadej Thammatacharees.