The recently discovered coronavirus variant, Omicron, has made governments worldwide anxious because of its fast transmissible nature. This blog discusses all that you need to know about the Omicron variant.
How was the Omicron first detected, and how is it a variant of concern (VoC)?
The WHO or World Health Organization on 27th November has declared that the Omicron COVID-19 variant is a ‘ variant of concern.’ The Omicron variant has sparked fears for the fight against the nearly two-year-old coronavirus pandemic. As a result, a dozen countries have brought the shutters down to contain the new phase of the pandemic. The WHO has declared the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 variant of COVID-19 to be a strain of concern and has renamed it Omicron. South Africa was the first to detect the Omicron variant on 24th November 2021.
Soth Africa has reported increasing cases in almost all provinces caused by the new Covid- 19 variant. The Omicron variant was also reported three days later in Bostwana. Not many Omicron variant cases have been reported in USA and India so far. According to the Who findings, there could be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (for people who have previously had COVID- 19 can become reinfected more easily with Omicron ), compared to other variants of concern.
According to the WHO, how dangerous is the Omicron variant, and how will the world deal with this menace?
The World Health Organization (WHO), which earlier said the variant carries a “very high” risk of infection, has advised 194 member nations that any infection surge could have severe consequences. However, it asserted that no deaths had been linked to the new variant. According to the WHO, this new Omicron variant has an unprecedented number of spike mutations. Few of these mutations are concerning because of their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic. The global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.
The new Omicron variant of coronavirus, first reported in South Africa, has triggered global alarm. Scientists have begun the race to figure out how dangerous this COVID- 19 variant is, while countries worldwide have closed borders and put further restrictions in place to keep the new variant at bay.
Symptoms of the Omicron variant
If you are worried about the Omicron variant and want to know its symptoms, read this blog further to know more about the same.
It is said that symptoms of the variant are ‘extremely mild’; however, ‘unfamiliar.’
Here are the symptoms that appeared in Omicron patients:
- Patients infected with this COVID- 19 variant show extreme tiredness, not limited to any age group.
- No cases are having a severe drop in oxygen saturation levels. In India, a significant decrease in oxygen saturation levels was reported among patients during the second wave of the COVID- 19 pandemic.
- Patients have reported mild muscle aches, a “scratchy throat,” and a dry cough.
- Only a few patients have reported a slightly high temperature.
- Most patients of Omicron strain have recovered without hospitalization, say doctors.
Protection from vaccines
Existing COVID vaccines will struggle against the new Omicron variant, and it will take some time to come up with a new vaccine that works against the virus. Scientists worldwide, including those working for vaccine manufacturers, are rushing to understand what magnitude of vaccine will work against the virus. For example, researchers at Pfizer are collecting antibodies from individuals who have had 2 or 3 shots of the Pfizer vaccine and checking if those antibodies have any neutralization abilities against Omicron. However, there is little hope that existing vaccines may protect from hospitalization and death due to Omicron if the person is fully vaccinated.
However, some components of the immune system, like T cells, can clear out the Omicron infection quickly if that does occur- and therefore, they can protect us from severe illnesses due to the Omicron variant. T cells are much less likely to lose efficiency when the Omicron virus mutates than antibodies are.
Detection of the Omicron variant
Detection of the variant is essential to curb the spread of the disease. It is true that for this fast transmissible disease with no vaccine or cure available, the most efficient way to prevent its spread is the faster detection so that the patients could be isolated.
So how do we detect the Omicron variant?
Stating that the global risk from the new COVID variant Omicron is “very high,” the World Health Organization said that it could be detected in some RT-PCR tests. The RT-PCR test tests for three parts of the virus. These are spike (S), envelope (E), and nucleocapsid (N2). Hence, if the E and N2 are detected, but the S is not detected, then that means it might be Omicron. Several research labs have indicated that for a widely used PCR test, if 1 of the three target genes is not detected (known as the S gene dropout), this test could be used as a marker for the Omicron variant, according to the World Health Organization.
Mutations in the “S” gene are common that affect not just virus infectivity but also the detection. This was seen in the case of Beta and Alpha variants as well. The Omicron variant has a deletion/mutation similar to the Alpha variant. Therefore, the S gene dropout test, a PCR method, could be used as an initial screening test. Rapid Antigen tests or RAT can not detect Omicron because the Rapid Antigen test can only indicate if the person has been infected with COVID- 19 or not.
I would conclude the blog here and request all of you to follow the general COVID protocols like washing and sanitizing hands regularly, using face masks properly whenever you step out, maintaining a minimum distance of about 6 feet or 2 meters from others, avoiding crowded places, following government COVID guidelines, and stepping out of your house only when necessary. We must isolate ourselves and get ourselves tested at the earliest if we experience the symptoms mentioned above. We must help the governments curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
Written by Megan Loftis
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