As many as four cases of Omicron’s sub-variant BF.7 have been reported in India in the last two weeks. It is one of two variants, the other being XBB, which are on the rise in China. Even as the number of cases of the new sub-variant are low here, India reported 175 new cases on January 3. While this may look like the cases in the country are at its lowest, if there’s anything the last two years have taught us, it is to not take Covid or its variants for granted. 

It is also understandably visible how most people may already be tired of dealing with the effects of Coronavirus. However, city doctors say one must take all the precautions to prevent infection by the newest variants, as not only are the symptoms similar but also because those who are immuno-compromised can be severely affected, as has been seen in the past.

Mid-day.com spoke to Dr Aniket Mule, consultant internal medicine, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, and Dr Kirti Sabnis, infectious disease specialist, Fortis Hospital Kalyan and Mulund, to understand more about the new variants. He not only breaks down the two variants but also explains how XBB is said to be more severe than all other Omicron variants. Mule also expresses the need to still wear masks and take care of one’s health almost three years after the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is the Omicron BF.7 variant and how is it different from the Omicron variant of Covid?

Mule: Since it initially appeared in late 2021, the Covid sub-variant Omicron has swiftly developed into several sub-variants. A specific subvariant, BF. 7, has recently been identified as the primary variant spreading in Beijing and responsible for a marked increase in Covid infections across China.

Sabnis: Viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 evolve over time and will continue to evolve as they spread. Sometimes, variants of the virus may develop. A variant virus contains at least one new change from the original virus. Alpha (formerly known as B.1.1.7) is the first variant known in the UK in 2020. The latest known variant is Omicron (formerly known as B.1.1.529, first identified in South Africa). 
 
The BF.7 variant has a few Amino Acid changes in its protein sequence, compared to the original Omicron variant. BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5 and is highly transmissible. It has a shorter incubation period and has a greater capacity to cause reinfection or infect even those who have been vaccinated. 

What is the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant and how is it different from the BF.7 variant. How is it different from the Omicron variant of Covid?

Mule: According to researchers, out of all these, the XBB.1.5 variation is the most immunological evasive and seems to have a stronger cell-binding ability than related sub-variants. According to researchers, XBB.1.5 has a tighter binding to the ACE2 receptor, which accounts for its higher levels of transmissibility.

Sabnis: Omicron XBB variant is a recombinant of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sub-lineages. It is a further sub-mutant of the Omicron lineage. As per WHO, so far, there is no epidemiological evidence that these sub-lineages will be of substantially greater risk compared to other Omicron sub-lineages.

What is the prevalence of the BF.7 variant and the XBB.1.5 variant in India and Mumbai at this point?

Mule:
BF.7 is actually an abbreviation. The name in full is BA.5.2.1.7. This is a sub-variant of the BA.5 variation of Omicron. Globally, Omicron`s BA.5 variation has the most instances that have been documented; approximately 76.2 per cent of all cases. The BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, however, did not become widely distributed in India. We have the most BA.2.75 instances than anybody else.

Sabnis: There is no exact data on prevalence available from India to support the same.

While it has been detected in China, should people be concerned about the variant in India?  

Mule:
India is worried that the emergence of mutant versions in the neighbouring country might lead to a new wave of diseases. Three waves of the epidemic have affected India thus far, with the second one—which was brought on by the Delta variety of SARS CoV 2—proving to be the deadliest.

Since the last few months, the epidemic in India has subsided to a manageable level; for now, there are just slightly more than 3,400 current illnesses there.

Sabnis: BF 7 has been circulating in India for the last six months, yet we haven’t witnessed any additional increase in cases. Currently, it is not a cause for alarm. But we need to be on alert and follow Covid-19-appropriate behaviour.

What are the symptoms of the BF.7 and XBB variant that one needs to look out for?

Mule:
The signs of this variation are comparable to those of the other Omicron sub-variants. A person who is infected may exhibit fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhoea as symptoms. In those with compromised immune systems, this sub-variant can result in serious illness. Someone should get the Covid test done if they have been experiencing persistent physical discomfort. In addition, other symptoms include a sore throat, exhaustion, phlegm, and a runny nose.

Sabnis: The symptoms of BF.7 infection are similar to those of other Omicron sub-variants, primarily upper respiratory infection, with a runny nose, cough, fever, and sore throat.

What are the precautions that people can take to avoid getting the variant?

Mule:

Physical separation: Coronavirus is contracted by coming into touch with an infected individual, therefore keeping your physical distance from others is crucial to preventing the disease. Don`t forget to put on a mask before you leave the house. You can prevent infection drops by doing this. The mask also guards against other diseases including the flu, cold, and cough in addition to the Coronavirus. After using the mask once, discard it. Use a mask of decent quality as well.

Get a booster dosage: If you haven`t yet received the Covid booster dose, do it right away. Since there is now no treatment for Coronavirus infection, only the vaccination can significantly protect us from its severe effects.

Sabnis: Following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour that includes hand sanitisation, frequent hand washing, wearing a mask properly, and maintaining social distancing remains the basic steps to prevent a potential spread.

Which age group is most vulnerable to the variants? Do immuno-compromised people need to be more worried about these variants?

Mule:
People older than 60 years old, those with lung or heart illness, diabetes, or immune system-related disorders frequently develop Covid-19 symptoms that are more severe. ​If you`re at high risk, prepare yourself and take the necessary precautions straight away to keep yourself safe. Do your bit to stop the coronavirus from spreading to people who are at high risk even if you are not one of them.

Sabnis: No specific age group is vulnerable to these infections. People with weaker immune systems such as patients with Cancer undergoing chemotherapy, or those who have had a transplant need to be cautious. Overall, the rate of complications and hospital admission has not increased but can be seen in people with weak immunity. 

Is it advisable to travel when one has similar symptoms especially during the winter in India?

Mule:
Generally speaking, wherever you travel, the precautions to protect yourself against the virus are the same. Put on a mask, and if you get symptoms, go to the doctor. Wear a mask if you start to experience Covid-19 symptoms to prevent spreading the illness and infecting others. Put yourself in a safe place and get help right away.

Sabnis: While coughs, colds, and other seasonal diseases are common in India during these months, these symptoms should never be ignored. If you or someone from the family has a cough, cold, or other symptoms, get Covid-19 test done right away and practice self-isolation. People with such symptoms should avoid travelling.

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(Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Mid-day Online does not in any way endorse the accuracy, completeness, efficacy or timeliness of any advice or line of treatment mentioned in this article. Readers must always seek the advice of a certified medical practitioner and/or a mental health professional before deciding on or starting any course of treatment.)

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