By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday confirmed that many cases of “upgraded” subvariants of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Omicron variant were traced to residents of Western Visayas.
A press release from DOH indicated that of the 81 cases of the XBB subvariant, 60 are in Western Visayas and 1 from the Davao Region.
The remaining 20 XBB cases in the country were from previously-detected Omicron subvariants, as reclassified by the Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN) tool, but their exact locations were not disclosed.
As to the XBC subvariant, 5 are from the region, while the rest of the recently sequenced COVID patient samples indicated that they were from SOCCSKSARGEN (38), Davao Region (27), Western the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (1).
Based on this case line list, 5 have died, 63 cases have been tagged as recovered, while 3 are still under verification on their current status.
The rest (122) of the total 139 XBC cases were reclassified to the recently identified subvariant by the PANGOLIN tool from those initially classified as either Delta or Omicron.
The DOH-Western Visayas Center for Health Development admitted that it does not have the breakdown yet of the exact locations where these cases come from.
But Iloilo Provincial Health Office chief Maria Socorro Quiñon said 14 XBB cases come from the province, with 3 each from Oton and Pavia towns, and 1 each from Passi City and the towns of Alimodian, Cabatuan, Lambunao, Leganes, Miagao, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Pavia also has 4 cases of the XBC subvariant.
The Iloilo City Health Office, meanwhile, has not yet sent any samples for sequencing to the Philippine Genome Center in the Visayas (PGC-Visayas) for sequencing. It said it will send samples later this week.
WHY IT MATTERS
The XBB variant, a recombinant of two Omicron subvariants, was first detected in India last August 2022.
Preliminary studies have suggested that this variant can evade immunization better than the BA.5 variant, but there is no sufficient evidence that it may cause more severe illness nor any differences in severity or clinical manifestations, compared to the B.1.1.529 Omicron variant.
It has been detected in at least 24 countries and has been attributed to be the primary cause of the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
The XBC variant, meanwhile, is a recombinant of the Omicron BA.2 and Delta variants.
As of October 3, 2022, the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) classified the XBC variant as a variant under monitoring and investigation, but the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centers for Disease Control (ECDC) have yet to determine the exact risks posed by this variant.
Dictionaries define “recombinants” as genetically engineered combinations of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which contains genetic information of an organism, or ribonucleic acid (RNA), which are “messenger” carrying instructions for protein synthesis.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday underscored that COVID vaccines have remained effective in preventing severe and critical COVID-19 across all variants.
She also assured that surveillance and monitoring activities continue to be implemented to prevent another COVID resurgence.