Philippines detects first XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant case

The XBB variant is a recombinant of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sub-lineages and has already caused substantial harm in the US.

Zacarian Sarao

Zacarian Sarao

Philippine Daily Inquirer

DOH-COVID-768x432-1.webp FILE PHOTO

February 8, 2023

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) recorded the first case of the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 is believed to be the most contagious among its types.

The DOH’s latest biosurveillance report, which looked at 1,078 samples from January 30 to February 3, found 196 Omicron XBB subvariants, with one being the particularly dangerous XBB.1.5.

It’s a recombinant of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sub-lineages and has already caused substantial harm in the United States due to its immunity evasion properties. Thus, the DOH is warning that this XBB.1.5 variant of COVID-19 carries a higher risk to public health.

“The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) classified XBB.1.5, an offshoot of the XBB subvariant, as a Variant of Interest, due to its increasing prevalence globally and enhanced immune evading properties,” the DOH said.

“The variant has been detected in 59 countries across six continents, according to sequence submissions in GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data),” it added.

Citing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DOH said the subvariant now also accounts for 66.4 percent of cases in the US, from January 29 to February 4 this year.

Nevertheless, despite the fear in transmissibility, the DOH noted that current available evidence do not suggest that XBB.1.5 has any differences in disease severity and clinical manifestations compared to the original Omicron variant

“Currently, the subvariant is still reported under XBB by the WHO and will remain classified under Omicron until sufficient evidence arises showing that the virus characteristics are significantly different from Omicron,” it added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the alarm about a new Omicron sub-variant, XBB.1.5, which has a higher transmission rate and could dramatically increase cases. WHO’s senior epidemiologist, Maria Van Kerkhove, has cautioned that the variant spreads quickly due to its mutations, making it easier to stick to cells and duplicate, which could lead to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths.

924 total Omicron subvariants reported
DOH recently reported that 924 cases of Omicron subvariants were discovered in the latest genome sequencing results, with the majority belonging to the BA.2.3.20 strain at 454 cases, followed by 196 cases of XBB subvariants, 160 cases of unspecified Omicron subvariants, and 154 cases with no lineage specified.

The BA.5 strain still holds the title of the dominant strain in the country, with 12,716 cases already recorded. The BA.2.3.20 follows second, with a total of 4,626 cases. XBB subvariants account for 1,366 of the total cases, 705 are XBC, and 325 are BA.4.

These results paint a grim picture of the current pandemic situation, but all hope is not lost. With the latest genome sequencing results in hand, the DOH is confident that they can develop more effective measures to contain the spread of the virus.

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