Omicron outbreak and diagnostics: Role of COVID-19 tests and vaccination

This variant of the virus might turn out to be the dominant variant across the various Covid-19 variants that have cropped up recently.

Older people who have underlying health conditions and unvaccinated individuals still risk getting severely ill.
Older people who have underlying health conditions and unvaccinated individuals still risk getting severely ill.

By Neeraj Gupta,

The Omicron variant of the Coronavirus is now posing a threat to the health of millions of people across the world. It will take some more time to gain a comprehensive understanding of its severity and infections, but what is known unambiguously is that this latest variant of the Coronavirus is extremely more contagious than its predecessor (Delta). According to the WHO, the number of new Omicron infections has been doubling every two days. This variant of the virus might turn out to be the dominant variant across the various Covid-19 variants that have cropped up recently.

The severity of the Omicron

It has been seen that people infected with Omicron can have the full spectrum of diseases, ranging from asymptomatic infection to mild disease to severe disease (organ failures) to death. As the omicron variant is rapidly spreading, the increased transmission will cause more hospitalization cases that may put the burden on healthcare systems, some of which will fail.

Older people who have underlying health conditions and unvaccinated individuals still risk getting severely ill. Although, a clear picture of the Omicron severity will come up with more research among a large number of infected people.

Omicron and Diagnostic Test

Recently, the Union Health Minister of India declared that the Omicron doesn’t escape the RT PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) and Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). This means that the RT-PCR tests are still the go-to test for any Coronavirus-related infection. Omicron mutations have occurred in the S gene. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19 is detected by observing the S genes which encodes the spike glycoprotein.

Majority of the ICMR approved RT-PCR test kits being used in India focus on the E, Rd Rp and N genes. The common RT-PCR kits used by diagnostic laboratories can identify the RT-PCR test result as positive or negative. Still, some tests may not identify if the positive result is due to the mutation in the S gene. To correctly identify the new variant, patients may be advised to undergo genetic sequencing.

RT-PCR tests from credible diagnostic laboratories such as Genes2Me can accurately diagnose and detect the infection using kit with high specification of 3 Gene . Speeding up detection and getting timely results can help control this virus’s speed. We have also developed RT-Direct RT-PCR kit with extraction free protocol having 3 gene specific to SARS-COV2 and give result in just 40 minutes. 

Effectiveness of Vaccines 

Research is ongoing to understand the full potential impact of the virus on existing vaccinated individuals. The vaccine remains the best option to reduce the severity of the disease, hospitalization and death due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, preliminary studies have shown there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (in people who have already been infected with covid-19) or people already been vaccinated.

Since the Omicron variant has about 50 mutations, including 30 mutations in the spike proteins, the current vaccines may not possibly build enough antibodies to ward off infection from Omicron. New research is being carried out on whether booster dose may increase the vaccine effectiveness in the fight against this new variant.

The Way Forward

There are two types of tests that are being used to detect the current coronavirus infection- RT PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test and Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). Both these tests can tell you if you have a current infection. Individuals can also use self-test kits from reliable diagnostic laboratory-Genes2Me to be used at home or anywhere. These self-test kits are easy to use and produce rapid results. If your self-test kits come up as positive, then you should stay at home, isolate for ten days, wear a mask at all times to reduce contact with others and in case of emergency, call a healthcare provider. Timely detection of the new variant can help in breaking the chain.

Also, vaccines still remain the best health measure to gain protection from Covid-19. It can reduce the rapid transmission and reduce the likelihood of the emergence of new variants. Vaccines are the best option in the fight against the Coronavirus to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Elderly people, people with existing diseases, and immunosuppressed individuals should quickly get themselves vaccinated to reduce their chances of being severely ill from this new variant. 

(The author is Founder and CEO, Genes2Me Pvt Ltd. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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