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Expert warns Omicron XBB.1.5 may already be locally transmitted

An infectious disease expert said Thursday there is a possibility that the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 of COVID-19 is being locally transmitted, after the first case was detected in a Filipino with no recent travel history.

“When we can detect a case without travel history, it’s possible that there is already local transmission happening. But we have to detect more cases so we can say that the local transmission is sustained,” said Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Diseases.

While the DOH continues to monitor developments about these new subvariants, Salvana reminded the public to continue wearing their face masks and avail of the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.

Currently, the Philippines has detected three cases of the XBB.1.5, after two additional cases were found in the genome sequence results released from Feb. 7-9.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) classified XBB.1.5 as an offshoot of the XBB subvariant and a variant of interest, due to its “increasing prevalence globally and enhanced immune evading properties.”

Despite this, DOH said that currently available evidence for XBB.1.5 “does not suggest any differences in disease severity and/or clinical manifestations compared to the original Omicron variant.”

Aside from XBB.1.5, the country also recently detected its first case of COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBF—a recombinant sublineage of A.5.2.3 and CJ.1.

The World Health Organization recently added XBF, XBB.1.5, and CH.1.1 to the list of “Omicron subvariants under monitoring.”

A Filipino senior citizen, with no known travel history, was the country’s first case of Omicron subvariant XBF, the DOH said.

The XBF is associated with the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Australia and Sweden.

“The first case detected here in the Philippines is from a Filipino senior citizen with no known history of travel, the individual presented mild symptoms, and has already been tagged as recovered,” the DOH said in a statement.

As of Feb. 15, the Philippines has 9,082 active COVID-19 cases.

Since 2020, the country has recorded 4,075,049 infections, of which 65,985 led to deaths.

To date, over 73.8 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The tally includes 21.4 million people who have received their first boosters while 3.9 million have received their second boosters.

On Wednesday, the DOH said it is monitoring emerging diseases, after the WHO confirmed the first outbreak of the Marburg virus disease in Equatorial Guinea.

But the DOH said that the global risk of Marburg virus disease is low.

Marburg virus is in the same virus family that causes Ebola. Both are known to cause severe viral hemorrhagic fever in humans. Cases of MVD are rare, but outbreaks occasionally arise in Africa, where the viruses circulate among some populations of fruit bats, specifically Rousettus bats.

Human-to-human transmission of Marburg virus is primarily associated with direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of infected persons.

Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute to the transmission of the Marburg virus.

“There is no specific treatment for Marburg virus disease. However, to reduce the risk of wildlife-to-human transmissions of the disease, such as through contact with fruit bats, monkeys among others, the public is advised to wear gloves and other appropriate protective clothing including masks when doing work, research activities or tours in mines or caves inhabited by fruit bat colonies,” the DOH said.

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