New Omicron form may cause severe infection in seniors

THE OMICRON subvariant FE.1 might severe infection among the Philippines’ vulnerable population including the elderly, an infectious disease expert said on Tuesday.

The FE.1 subvariant, which was first detected in the Philippines recently, is likely similar to the XBB lineage, Rontgene M. Solante, a member of the Health department’s technical advisory group, told a news briefing.

“There are specific mutations in FE.1, they call it mutations of interest that are very similar to XBB,” he said in mixed English and Filipino, noting that XBB variants have caused a rise in coronavirus infections in recent months.

Since FE.1 is not totally different from XBB variants, it will most likely cause severe infection “but only for those who are highly vulnerable like the elderly population,” Mr. Solante said.

He said FE.1 might only cause mild symptoms since the new Omicron subvariants, unlike the Delta variant, “attack the upper respiratory tract, not the lower respiratory tract.”

“We would expect the same clinical manifestation as that of the Omicron — cough, fever, sore throat, body pain,” he said. “And mostly these are very mild, especially among the younger population.”

Mr. Solante said people who are seriously ill, and seniors should always wear face masks and update their vaccination based on existing rules because their immunity weakens four to six months after vaccination.

Citing results of genome sequencing tests from May 29 to June 12, the Department of Health said on Monday it had detected the country’s first case of the Omicron subvariant FE.1.

The agency said “currently available evidence for the variant does not suggest any differences in disease severity and/or clinical manifestations compared with the original Omicron variant.”

“Limited information is available for the variant and researchers are currently characterizing FE.1 in terms of transmissibility, immune evasion and ability to cause more severe disease,” it added.

FE.1 has been detected in 35 territories across six continents, the agency said, citing sequencing submissions from the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) classified the new subvariant was as a variant under monitoring on June 1, which means “there is some indication that they could have properties similar to those of a variant of concern, but the evidence is weak or has not yet been assessed by ECDC.”

The Health department said 82.91% or 1,940 of 2,340 samples tested were XBB sublineages. — KATA