Omicron (B.1.1.529 variant)
Omicron (B.1.1.529 variant) very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us. We are living through a cycle of panic and neglect. Hard-won gains could vanish in an instant. Our most immediate task, therefore, is to end this pandemic.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as variant of concern (VoC), named Omicron.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa has said that currently, “no unusual symptoms” have been reported following infection with the Omicron (B.1.1.529 variant). It has highlighted the fact that, as with other infectious variants such as Delta, some individuals are asymptomatic.
Covid symptoms linked to the new omicron variant have been described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain.
The patient didn’t have a sore throat, but more of a “scratchy throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell — symptoms that have been associated with previous strains of the coronavirus.
There are fewer than 100 whole genome sequences that are available, we don’t know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.Researchers are currently trying to determine where the mutations are and what they potentially mean for diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has, there’s a lot of work that is underway.
It is not clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.
“While preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with Omicron”, the experts said.
Preliminary evidence indicates that people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron when compared to other variants of concern.
Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.
As research continues, the WHO is reminding people that vaccines remain effective against other COVID-19 variants – including the dominant Delta strain – and are the best way to avoid severe disease and death.
Protect yourself and others
The WHO officials reminded previous advice: people can do a lot to protect themselves from COVID, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.
Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see.
Get vaccinated when you can, make sure you receive the full course of your doses and make sure you take steps to reduce your exposure and prevent yourself from passing that virus to someone else.
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