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Hawaii laboratory detects case of omicron subvariant XE

HONOLULU (AP) — A COVID-19 omicron variant hybrid called XE has been detected in Hawaii, the Department of Health said.

The department’s laboratories division confirmed one case of XE in its latest variant report, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday. The hybrid contains genetic material from both BA.1 and BA.2 variants. The department found it in a sample collected last month.

The XE subvariant is believed to be about 10 percent more transmissible than BA.2, which itself is about 30 percent more contagious than the original omicron. It was first detected in the United Kingdom.

Infectious disease epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said XE doesn’t appear to have more severe effects than other versions of the virus.

A recombinant variant occurs when an individual becomes infected with two or more variants at the same time, resulting in a mixing of their genetic material within the patient’s body, according to the UK Health Security Agency. It’s not unusual for this to happen, the agency said in a news release.

XE is a recombinant lineage of BA.1 and BA.2, with the majority of its genome, including the gene encoding for the spike protein, coming from BA.2, the report said.