There is a new Covid-19 variant that is believed to be more transmissible. The Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26.
And soon after, WHO elevated it to a “variant of concern”— one that shows evidence of increased transmissibility and more severe disease and requires not only increased surveillance but notification of WHO. This variant exhibited a high number of mutations, making it almost incomparable to the original Covid-19 strain.
Where was Omicron first reported?
The virus was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021, and it quickly spread there. However, it was on Friday, November 9, Raquel Viana, Head of Science at one of South Africa’s biggest testing labs, when she sequenced the genes on eight coronavirus samples and received the shock of her life, according to English.alarabiya.net.
“I was quite shocked at what I was seeing, I questioned whether something had gone wrong in the process,” Viana told Reuters. She quickly phoned her colleague at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg, gene sequencer Daniel Amoako.
“I didn’t know how to break it to them,” she recalled. “To me, it looks like a new lineage.”
And though the variant was first reported in South African and Botswana, there is evidence that it might have been present in the Netherlands earlier than it was thought.
The Omicron variant was identified in two test samples taken in the Netherlands in the country between 19 and 23 November. However, it remains unclear whether those that tested positive for it had visited South Africa.
What Is the Transmissibility of the Omicron Variant?
The Omicron variant exhibits 30 more mutations across its genome than the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has fewer than 20 mutations. Since it first emerged in late November, it has spread to at least seven South African provinces about two weeks ago.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other “variants of concerns,” WHO said in a statement last week.
It went further to add, “[This] variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.”
Therefore, even though very little has been established on the transmissibility, the Omicron variant may be the most transmissible yet.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of the Omicron Variant?
It is still very early to tell the symptom of the Omicron Variant, and it is very premature to draw any conclusion. However, doctors in South Africa have indicated that the symptoms of the Omicron variant could be milder than those of the Delta variant.
A South African doctor who first raised the concern of the variant, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC that she observed that seven of her patients “unusual” symptoms were different from the Delta Variant.
Dr. Coetzee said that the seven patients went into the hospital because of “extreme tiredness.” She also noted that, unlike the Delta variant that caused a sore throat, these patients complained of having a “scratchy throat” and “dry cough.”
“Symptoms at that stage was very much related to normal viral infection. And because we haven’t seen Covid-19 for the past eight to 10 weeks, we decided to test,” she told Reuters.
Is the Omicron Variant in the U.S.?
According to the WHO, 23 countries worldwide have reported cases of the highly mutated omicron Covid-19 variant as of Wednesday this week.
The U.S. has confirmed its first case of omicron in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The individual, who was fully vaccinated, had returned from South Africa to the San Francisco area on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters Wednesday.
Are The Vaccines Still Effective Against the Omicron Variant?
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech and creator of Pfizer vaccine, said that Omicron would better evade the antibodies generated by the vaccine than the Delta variant. However, it is unlikely that the new variant will circumnavigate the body’s T-cell immune response to the infection.
“Our message is: Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” he says.