The Covid-19 pandemic has been gripping the world since the end of 2019. This pandemic has changed the world and our way of life. We have faced several lock downs and travel bans during the past months and just when everyone felt things were getting better. We heard the news about the new Omicron variant that was first reported from South Africa. The coronavirus has changed; as they evolve and circulate among humans and animals and mutate.
We need to expect some variations as the virus spreads fast and hence it evolved into the Delta variant and now the latest Omicron variant. This variant features a multitude of mutations that make it much different from the previous versions. The Delta variant has been prominent around the globe and in the US. It has about 10 mutations on its spike protein. In this article, we will be sharing details about what we know about the Omicron variant of Covid-19 so far.
What exactly is the Omicron Covid-19 Variant?
The Omicron variant has over 30 mutations on the spike protein alone and around 50 in total mutations. This variant is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 and was reported to the WHO on 24th November 2021. It was first detected in specimens collected on 11th November 2021 in Botswana. And on 14th November 2021 in the republic of South Africa. The WHO classified it as a variant of concern (VOC) on November 26, 2021 and the first confirmed case in the US was identified on 1st December 2021.
Experts are concerned that this variant could be more contagious. The American physician and scientist Anthony Stephen Fauci who is an immunologist has said that the munitions of Omicron have been associated with increased transmissibility and that is the reason South Africa witnessed a sudden surge in new cases.
If you are wondering; what does Omicron mean? The Omicron name was derived from the 15th letter of the Greek letter and this has been the system adopted, to name the new and emerging Corona Viruses and their mutations. There is some evidence that suggests that this variant causes a higher risk of reinfection as compared to other variants. All the provinces of the Republic of South Africa appear to have an increasing number of cases.
How is Omicron Variant Detected?
The currently used SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostic tests are able to detect this variant. One of the most widely used PCR tests done shows that; one of the three target genes is not being detected. This failure to detect the gene is called the S gene target failure or the S gene dropout. Hence this test can be used as a marker to currently detect this particular Omicron variant. This system has helped to detect infection at a faster rate than the previous surges of infection.
Does this Variant Cause a More Severe Disease?
Many are wondering if COVID 19 variant Omicron is worse than the Delta variant? The early reports and the current information available report that it is a mild disease that is less severe. But the early data might sometimes be misleading. Hence it will take some time and thorough analysis to understand its severity. The main challenge is to assess the variants’ severity and decipher the various confounding variables that usually influence the course of the disease. For example, the reports of mild disease in South Africa may be due to the relatively young population and many already being exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
Researchers are continuously looking for data about Omicron infections happening in other countries. The media has portrayed that the cases of Covid variant Omicron has been mild so far. The geographical spread and larger sample size will give the researchers a better idea about the status of the current outbreak and whether the claims of a mild disease are true. It would be essential to do a proper case-controlled study in which two groups of participants are matched looking at important parameters such as age, vaccination status, and prevailing health conditions. The data from both groups need to be collected simultaneously; since the number of hospitalization can be influenced by the total hospital capacity of a region.
How to Stay Safe and Protected from Omicron?
The WHO is doing a study based on research and findings and will communicate with their member states and the general public as required. Based on evidence that has been presented the TAG-VE (Technical Advisory Group on SARS CoV-2 Virus Evolution) has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a variant of concern (VOC).
The public health experts opine that the arrival of Omicron does not change the best measures of protection that we have been following all along. Hence wearing the masks and maintaining social distancing and using hand sanitizers have been true and tested methods followed successfully around the globe. Vaccines and booster shots are very effective and are also slowly gaining more popularity, since the arrival of Omicron.
It is also very important to avoid poorly ventilated spaces and crowded indoor settings that give the virus more opportunity to spread. A booster shot can enhance protection against COVID 19 even if the Omicron diminishes the degree of vaccine effectiveness. The booster shot dose can give the antibodies an extra boost to protect the body. The vaccines will continue to keep people from getting seriously ill from Omicron or other variants. Even the Delta variant is causing the maximum death among the unvaccinated in the US. Hence vaccines have proven to be a potent defense against the invisible enemy the world is fighting together.
The leading health officials are consulting with global vaccine makers. They are discussing about tweaking their vaccine formulas to target Omicron more specifically. But it will take months before the tailored version comes to the market since the manufacturing, testing, and review process takes considerable time. Proper testing is also critical to find the cases and self-isolate before it gets into a rapid spread mode.
It is very essential to be aware and stay updated as the mutated Omicron slowly spreads around the world. A cautious approach is important and people need to follow the COVID protocols without fail. There is no need to panic at this stage but we need to work together to address this scenario as responsible global citizens. Vaccine production and the vaccination process should be encouraged to ensure that even people in remote areas have easy access to Covid vaccines.
Omicron has proved the potential of the virus to mutate several times. Hence we need to prepare ourselves with better vaccines and technology to protect the world from further pandemic situations. The vaccine still remains the best public health policy to keep people safe during this COVID 19 pandemic situation. Vaccinating people across the globe in all countries should be done on a priority basis to control the spread. This will keep people safer!