COVID-19 VARIANT OMICRON- A NEW CAUSE OF CONCERN

Health

The world has still not fully recovered from the aftereffects of Covid 19 and a new danger has already begun to circle lives. This new danger is named as the Omicron variant and is believed to be a new variant of the virus that caused Covid-19.

WHAT IS THE OMICRON VARIANT?

Picture Credits: Deccan Herald

The Omicron variant is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first found in South Africa.

The clinical situation in South Africa has been characterized by three different peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was the Delta variant. In the past few weeks, infections have increased, coinciding with the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection case was from a specimen that was collected on 9 November 2021.

It was reported to the World Health Organization on 24 November 2021 and the WHO declared it as a variant of concern.

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is a group of experts that monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behavior of the virus. Many of the mutations that penetrate protein are present in other variants of concern and are related to increased infectivity and antibody evasion. Calculative modeling suggests that the variant may also escape cell-mediated immunity. On 26 November, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) wrote that an evaluation of the neutralizing capacity of convalescent sera and of vaccines is urgently needed to evaluate possible immune escape, saying these data are expected within two to three weeks.

It is still unknown how the variant will spread in populations with high levels of immunity; it is also unknown whether the Omicron variant causes a milder or more severe COVID-19 infection. According to pharmaceutical companies, it would take around 100 days to make vaccines that could tackle the variant.

Anne von Gottberg, an expert at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, believes that immunity granted by previous variants will not protect against Omicron.

SYMPTOMS 

When it comes to symptoms and signs, no unusual symptoms have yet been discovered regarding the variant and, as with other variants, some individuals are asymptomatic. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said she encountered the variant in patients who had fatigue, aches, and pains, but no cough or change in sense of smell or taste.

The doctor who raised the alarm over Omicron from South Africa said most of her patients suspected of having the new coronavirus variant and had only shown mild symptoms and recovered fully without hospitalization.

MEASURES 

Countries that are found to be carrying patients of this newly emerged variant are asked to do the following:

  • Improve surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand the spread of Omicron variants.
  • Submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, like GISAID.
  • Report initial cases associated with VOC (variant of concern) infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
  • Perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, antibody neutralization, immune responses, and other relevant details.
  • Individuals are advised to take precautionary measures to lessen the risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding crowded spaces, improving the ventilation of indoor spaces, and getting vaccinated.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OMICRON & DELTA VARIANT

The Omicron Covid-19 variant is speculated to be more dangerous than Delta variant. However, some are confused between both terms. There are notable differences between both variants.

  • On the basis of origin

Delta variant was first identified in India in December 2020 but Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana on November 11 and three days later in South Africa.

  • On the basis of mutations

Gene sequencing of the Omicron variant showed that Omicron had more mutations than the Delta variant. Researchers have found 43 aa mutations in the spike proteins of the Omicron variant while those found in the Delta variant were 18. 

  • On the basis of vaccine effectiveness

According to researchers, Covishield is the best vaccine against the Delta variant, However, the same cannot be said about the Omicron variant yet. This is still being researched.

The first 2 cases of the COVID-19 variant in India were found in Karnataka on December 2. Eventually, cases were later detected from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, and Rajasthan. Anticipating the threat from the new variant, the Central government has tightened the travel guidelines for international passengers coming from ‘at risk’ countries. The passengers have to undergo an RT-PCR test on arrival and will be required to wait for the results before leaving the airport or taking a connecting flight.  

Some of the countries at risk are The United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China,  Zimbabwe, Singapore, Mauritius, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Israel.

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