COVID-19 Omicron Strain – All your questions answered

The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021. On November 26th the World Health Organization (WHO) designated variant B.1.1.529 as a ‘variant of concern’ and named it Omicron.

omicron
The Omicron variant is relatively easy to distinguish in PCR tests from the Delta variant, the dominant and most infectious COVID-19 mutation so far.

By Dr. Sudhirr Bhandarii,

Where and how did it start?

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO (World Health Organization) from South Africa on 24 November 2021. 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 2021. On November 26th the World Health Organization (WHO) designated variant B.1.1.529 as a ‘variant of concern’ and named it Omicron.

What are the key symptoms reported from Omicron infection?

  • Patients infected with this COVID-19 variant show extreme tiredness, which is not limited to any age group
  • There is no cases having a severe drop in oxygen saturation levels. In India, we witnessed a major drop in oxygen saturation levels during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Patients have reported mild muscle aches, a “scratchy throat” and dry cough.
  • Only a few patients have reported a slightly high temperature.
  • Most patients of Omicron strain have recovered without hospitalization.

Then why are we so concerned?

The decision to classify Omicron as a variant of concern was based on evidence presented to the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution.

This evidence suggested the new variant has several mutations that could impact how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it may cause and, crucially, the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines.

Is it transmitted more easily?

The WHO says it’s not yet clear if the Omicron variant is spread from person-to- person more easily than other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has risen in the area of South Africa where Omicron was first identified. More research is being carried out to determine whether this is due to Omicron, or to other factors.

Does Omicron cause more severe illness?

Early data from South Africa shows the rate of hospitalization is rising among COVID-19 patients. However, there is no evidence so far that directly links infection with Omicron with an increased need for hospital treatment. The WHO says the rise in hospitalizations may be due to a general rise in infection rates. There is currently no evidence to suggest Omicron symptoms are different, but it will likely take weeks to determine if Omicron causes more severe illness among the general population.

Does it affect all age-groups?

Many of the early Omicron cases reported in South Africa were among students. With other COVID-19 variants, younger people have generally had milder symptoms.

Will existing COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments work against the Omicron variant?

The WHO says it’s working with partners to understand the potential impact of Omicron variant on the effectiveness of vaccines and other COVID-19 countermeasures. Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective against severe disease, the WHO advises. 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.

Do the current testing modalities hold out?

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.

What similarities and differences does it have to the other variants?

The Omicron variant is relatively easy to distinguish in PCR tests from the Delta variant, the dominant and most infectious COVID-19 mutation so far. Unlike the Delta variant, it has a mutation of S-gene drop-out. However, this is not a unique identifier because the Alpha variant, firs identified in Britain, also has that mutation.

Does Omicron increase the risk of reinfection?

Preliminary research shows the new variant may increase the risk of reinfection for people who have already had COVID-19, according to the WHO. However, data is currently limited and more information should be made available in the coming days. In terms of testing for infections, existing PCR tests are effective at detecting the Omicron variant.

How can we remain protected?

We are making every effort for reminding people that the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a well-fitting mask. Moreover,maintaining social distance, staying at least 1m from others; opening windows to improve ventilation; avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keeping hands clean; coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue; and getting vaccinated will be additionally required to combat the emerging variants.

How is the Omicron Variant Detected ?

covid 19 test

How is the Omicron Variant Detected ?

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.

Looking to increase Transmissibility and infectivity, we need to be more carefully about Covid appropriate behavior specially masking and social distancing. Definitely a variant of consent but not a variant of panic, aggressive vaccinator drive, masking and social distancing will be off at most importance,

We need to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage as rapidly as possible, especially among populations designated as high priority who remain unvaccinated or are not yet fully vaccinated.

(The author is Principal, SMS Medical College, Jaipur. 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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