The Omicron variant is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from South Africa on 24 November 2021. On 26 November 2021, the WHO designated it as a variant of concern and named it after omicron, the fifteenth letter in the Greek alphabet.
The variant has an unusually large number of mutations, several of which are novel and a significant number of which affect the spike protein targeted by most COVID-19 vaccines at the time of discovering the Omicron variant.
This level of variation has led to concerns regarding its transmissibility, immune system evasion, and vaccine resistance. As a result, the variant was quickly designated as being “of concern”, and travel restrictions were introduced by several countries in an attempt to slow it’s internationally spread. However, the variant has spread to over 50 countries as of 7 December 2021.
Many of the mutations to the spike protein are present in other variants of concern and are related to increased infectivity and antibody evasion.
As of November 2021, it is unknown how the variant will spread in populations with high levels of immunity. It is also unknown if the omicron variant causes a milder or more severe COVID-19 infection. According to pharmaceutical companies, vaccines could be updated to combat the variant “in around 100 days” if necessary.
Signs and Symptoms:
No unusual symptoms have yet been associated with the variant as of 26 November 2021, and, as with other variants, some individuals are asymptomatic. Angelique Coetzee, chief of the South African Medical Association, said the patient had first encountered the variant in patients who had fatigue, aches and pains, but no cough or change in sense of smell or taste.
Rapid antigen tests are most likely not affected, and current PCR tests can detect the variant. The variant may be identified by sequencing and genotyping. The BA.1 lineage, but not the BA.2 lineage, can be identified by S gene target failure (SGTF), a trait shared with subsets of the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant.
As with other variants, the WHO recommended that people continue to keep enclosed spaces well ventilated, avoid crowding and close contact, wear well-fitting masks, clean hands frequently, and get vaccinated.
The WHO asked nations to do the following:
Enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID. Report initial cases/clusters associated with virus-of-concern infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
Where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the virus of concern on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, and the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.
Corticosteroids such as dexamethasone and IL6 receptor blockers such as tocilizumab(Actemra) are known to be effective for managing patients with the earlier strains of severe COVID-19. The impact on the effectiveness of other treatments is currently being assessed.
On 29 November, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that Pfizer submitted an Emergency Use Authorization application to the FDA for the development of the RNA virus antiviral drug Paxlovid, and the company was confident that it could treat the Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant is also affecting people who are fully vaccinated and have high immunity levels. Researchers keep on working to find out the solution for that. Anyhow people must wear masks and follow social distancing.
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