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What do we know about Xibalbá, the new COVID variant from Mexico

With increasing rates of infection in the Yucatan peninsula, the covid-19 variant is demonstrating some sinister mutations, which could well be the basis of a real health problem for Mexico.

What do we know about Xibalbá, the new COVID variant from Mexico

In the wake of a growing number of outbreaks across the world, it appears that covid-19 and its variants are still very much with us, but what’s happening in Mexico is something a little different.

Xibalbá: What we know so far

According to reports, there is a new covid-19 variant which has been identified in Mexico and could in fact be the cause of a new coronavirus outbreak. Known as BW.1, or more commonly Xibalbá - the Mayan underworld - we now understand that sub lineage predominates in the southeast of the country, according to the analysis of researcher Rodrigo García López, from the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which was published in the Research Square portal.

To that end, the scientist explained that, “During October saw the Yucatan peninsula register a rapid increase in cases that may well be the first signs of a new epidemiological increase in the country.” As per research, the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variant comes in tandem with a recent and significant increase in covid-19 cases, which occurred in southeastern Mexico in October. Garcia López argues that its explosive growth can be explained in part by relevant escape mutations also found in the BQ.1 variant.

There are unique differences in the Xibalbá strain

As per analysis reported, nearly 75% of the genomes which have been sequenced weekly in the region have been identified as belonging to it. The BW.1 genome is derived from the Mexican sequences of BA.5.6.2, from Omicron, and appears to have originated in Mexico, according to Garcia Lopez. In addition, analysis seems to indicate that the strain appears to have originated in the Yucatan peninsula sometime back in July of this year during the fifth wave of coronaviruses. What’s important to know here is that BW.1 has a number of what are called immune escape mutations, which it shares with those found in the BQ.1 variant, one of the fastest-spreading lineages described to date. This is all to say that the Mexican variant does not cause a more dangerous disease, however, it is notably better at escaping immunity when compared with earlier ones. In other words, more contagious.

At present, the Mexican states in which the variant has infected individuals are primarily Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco, and Quintana Roo. According to the latest report from the Yucatan Health Secretariat (SSY), 554 infections have been reported in the state. It is understood that during the almost two-week period between October 24th and November 4th, there were 216 reported cases, while in the first two weeks of October there were 79.