Omicron variant studies: Recent studies have shown that the Omicron variant of coronavirus is causing less severe infections as compared to previous versions of the deadly SARS-CoV-2. Now, numerous studies conducted on lab animals as well as on human tissues are giving the first hint as to why this is so. A report in NYT has said that studies conducted on hamsters as well as mice have found that the Omicron variant led to infections that were less damaging, remaining limited mostly to the nose, throat and windpipe. This means that the Omicron variant caused much less damage to the lungs, in a contrast to the effect that previous variants had.
The report noted that previous variants of the virus often led to scarring and serious breathing difficulty when they infected people. Berlin Institute of Health computational biologist Roland Eils was cited as saying that it would be fair to say that at present, studies were pointing towards the emergence of a disease that infected mainly the upper respiratory system.
First reports of the Omicron variant had emerged from South Africa in November last year and back then, it was not quite known how it would behave vis-a-vis the previous forms of the virus. But the variant was alarming due to the fact that it had a distinctive combination of over 50 genetic mutations, the NYT report added.
Research had also shown that some of the mutations in the Omicron variant enabled coronaviruses to latch onto cells more tightly, while others helped them avoid the primary immune response – antibodies. Despite this, though, there were still questions around the way the variant functioned inside the body because behaviour of a variant cannot be predicted on the basis of mutations, according to University of Cambridge virus expert Ravindra Gupta.
However, since the variant emerged, more than 12 research groups have been looking at Omicron in labs by either infecting human cells with it in a petri dish or infecting animals with it by spraying it into their noses. During this time, the variant already spread across the world, leading to a steady increase in the number of coronavirus cases, even causing breakthrough cases. One notable aspect of this, though, has been that while the cases spiked, there was a relatively lower increase in the number of hospitalisations
Earlier studies did find that the variant was leading to less severe infections but there were limitations like those people were either young with robust immune systems or had heightened immunity due to vaccination or a previous infection. Now though, studies conducted on animals in labs living in identical conditions have started to be made public and about 6 studies that have been released recently have all pointed out to the fact that Omicron is milder than Delta as well as other previous versions of the virus.
A study from Japanese and American scientists released last week found that hamsters and mice infected with Omicron faced less lung damage, did not lose as much weight and were less prone to death due to the infection. They also, on an average, experienced milder symptoms caused by the infection.