A DEPARTMENT of Health-Central Visayas (DOH 7) official said there are no confirmed cases yet of the Covid-19 XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant in the region.

DOH 7 Program Manager of Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases Dr. Van Phillip Baton said XBB.1.5 is the latest subvariant of the Omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

“We already have XBB (subvariant) cases in the Philippines, but Central Visayas has no confirmed case of such subvariant yet,” Baton said during the “Kapihan sa PIA” on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

Central Visayas is composed of the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor.

Baton said the XBB.1.5 subvariant is still considered a “variant of interest,” while Omicron is considered a “variant of concern.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a variant of concern (VOC) “translates to a rise in transmissibility, an increase in fatality and a significant decrease in effectiveness of vaccines, therapy and other health measures,” while a variant of interest (VOI) is a “variant with a genetic capability that affects characteristics of the virus such as disease severity, immune escape, transmissibility and diagnostic escape.”

The WHO also confirmed that a variant of interest “causes a consequential volume of community transmission.”

Baton said VOCs affect policy making in handling an infectious disease, particularly the mitigation and intervention that the health agency and other government agencies have to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, VOIs influence the transmission and diagnostic of a virus. In the case of the XBB.1.5 subvariant, Baton said it has detected minor changes in the transmissibility of the virus; however, it still shares almost the same characteristics with the other detected subvariants of the Omicron variant.

Baton added that this slight difference also does not have a significant impact on the severity of the symptoms or if it causes another set of symptoms.

“It’s still more or less the same symptoms. We did not see an increase in deaths, meaning the ones it infected, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not, still have the same mortality rate. But we’ve seen the impact in terms of symptoms among the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Although there are certain instances of re-infection, meaning those who got Covid now can still get infected again because this is a new variant and we’ve seen breakthrough infections among the already vaccinated, those who are vaccinated still experience milder symptoms than the unvaccinated ones,” Baton added in a mix of English and Cebuano.

To prevent the spread of the infectious disease, Baton reminds the public to take precautionary measures such as still wearing masks in public areas and washing of hands.