Dr. Rontgene Solante

Expert warns vs new Covid variant

AN infectious disease expert has warned that a new variant which contains the same mutation as the Delta Covid-19 variant may cause increased severity after a case was discovered in the Philippines.

The CH.1.1 variant, also named “Orthrus,” was among the newly discovered variants reported in the country in the latest sequencing conducted by the Philippine Genome Center and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine from January 30 to February 3.

The same sequencing also reported the discovery of the XBB.1.5 subvariant in the country.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine head at San Lazaro Hospital, said the CH.1.1 variant came from the same mother variant as the XBB.1.5, which is the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

The BA.2 Omicron subvariant was the dominant variant that caused an explosion of cases in January 2022.

He added that the CH.1.1 variant has the same mutations that were contained in the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron, as well as the Delta variant.

“We need to monitor this subvariant of the omicron because of those [characteristics]. It can cause severe cases, but we don’t know that yet,” Solante said.

Solante expects that the discovery of the XBB.1.5 variant in the country may not lead to a sudden increase in cases due to the increased population immunity brought about by vaccines and previous infections.

However, he believes that XBB.1.5 may displace other variants as a possible dominant variant in the country as it has heavy mutations that can cause increased transmissibility.

“It can be, but I don’t think it can cause a spike or a significant increase in cases, but it may eclipse BA.2 or BA.5, which came from BA.2,” Solante said.

He added that the bivalent vaccine would work with the subvariant, with latest studies in the United States and Brazil pointing out that there is an increased protection against Covid-19 infection among those high-risk individuals who have gotten the vaccine.

He also said that the low number of cases being reported in the country is an “artificial” decrease as more people do not opt to test using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing and instead use antigen tests.

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