Omicron is a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2 that was first discovered in Botswana, South Africa. The variant is now designated as Variant of Concern (VoC) by the WHO and hence has raised eyebrows around the globe.
Like many other variants, this new variant also has mutations. But as compared to other prevalent mutations (like beta, alpha, and gamma), this one has a high number of variations.
There are 32 mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron variant. A large number of these mutations are actually in the receptor-binding domain of its spike protein. The receptor-binding domain is the part of the virus that actually binds to the proteins of human cells and enters them. This is also the part that is recognized by natural human antibodies or by vaccines.
Mutations in the COVID-19 virus can cause both: more resistance to antibodies and fast transmission. Therefore, the high number of mutations in the Omicron variant might translate to infection in people who are already vaccinated and have developed immunity against the previous COVID-19 virus variants.
It should be mentioned here that the cumulative effect of individual mutations might not be the sum total of individual mutations of the virus. This means that the mutations in the protein spikes of the virus may or may not cause a change in transmissibility and vaccine escape of the virus.
A new variant of covid has been identified in South Africa. This variant is named Omicron and has already been designated as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As this new variant is making up the headlines, myths about it have started to float around. To counter that, let’s see what is our current knowledge about the Omicron Virus. We do not know much about this variant but the information available as of yet is still enough to separate facts from myths.
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Omicron:
As of now, there is no report published that has suggested that Omicron can cause more severe illness than other variants. Although early evidence suggests that this new variant spread faster than other variants, final reports are awaited on it.
As of now, scientists are still working on detecting the symptoms of the Omicron variant.
Many patients who are infected with Omicron were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This means that vaccinations can prove to be ineffective against the Omicron variant. There are some other prevalent variants like the Delta variant that appear to be causing vaccine breakthrough infections. It is not known yet whether Omicron can cause more breakthrough infections than the Delta variant.
However, in its updated release on Omicron, WHO said that vaccines are still critical in controlling the severity of the disease. The current vaccines across nations remain effective in reducing the number of fatalities and severe diseases.
The commonly used test to detect infection, the PCR test, is still effective in detecting Omicron infection. Other types of tests like the Rapid Antigen Detection Test are being studied to know if they can detect the infection or not.
Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is still the best possible action for protection against Omicron. Many doctors and scientists believe that there are chances of at least partial protection against Omicron by the available COIVD-19 vaccines.
Yes. As of 6th December 2021, there are 23 positive Omicron cases in India. The cases are reported in Maharashtra(10), Delhi(1), Karnataka(2), Gujarat (1) Rajasthan(9). All the primary and secondary contacts of these patients are being traced and tested.
The central and state government has already released a revised travel advisory. Every traveler who is coming from Omicron-affected countries is being tested for infection. The government also has cleared that there is no need for a lockdown to contain the spread of the Omicron variant. The scientists of the country have already enhanced their efforts on genome sequencing to track the presence of the Omicron variant among newly infected patients.
At least 24 countries have reported Omicron cases. It is likely that this number will increase in the near future.
Content is medically reviewed by Dr. Kavitha Manjunath (Clinical Head, Portea)
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