The novel Coronavirus (COVID) has continued to evolve with new variants and mutations, and the Delta variant was thought to be the most dangerous variant of all.
But recently, “Omicron” – the new COVID variant has entered the world. It was first discovered in South Africa, and this variant is considered highly dangerous. Feeling the sudden increase of COVID cases in South Africa, experts claim that the new Omicron variant has a high transmission rate. However, there is no evidence to make this conclusion.
Omicron was declared as a Variant of Concern (VoC) by WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced this Omicron as a “Variant of Concern” (VoC) because it is believed to be a highly transmissible variant and severity which may result in increased hospitalizations or deaths.
Scientists have discovered that the Omicron variant has 32 mutations. Those mutations develop in the spike protein of Coronavirus, and the virus attaches to our cells using the spike protein and starts to multiply and infect us.
Most of the mutations that develop in the spike protein help the virus to bind with specific antibodies and ACE-2 receptors. Thus, Coronavirus uses ACE-2 receptors to enter our body.
Microbiology experts believe that Omicron’s mutations make the virus more likely to infect us via the ACE-2 receptor. They say that the newly discovered variant might also evade our immune systems more efficiently than previous variants.
Let’s think the virus is a small ball with spikes sticking out. It’s the spike protein that we’re concerned about, and that’s the key. As soon as the virus enters the body, it allows its key to lock with our cells. In this way, the virus can enter into the cells, multiply, and cause disease. Similarly, the vaccine we take glom onto that spike protein prevents it from entering our cells, thus protecting us.
If Omicron can bypass the immune system and become fully functioning, scientists believe it will become more contagious.
Is Omicron more dangerous?
The Delta variant of the SARs-COV-2 virus remains the most dominant strain for the time being.
Some studies say that the Omicron variant and the Delta strain have only minor differences. Similar symptoms are reported in both cases, including fever, sore throat, tiredness, headache, and if the condition is severe, people may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, etc.
However, preliminary data from the WHO indicates that there may be a higher risk of reinfection with the ‘Omicron variant’. In other words, people who were previously infected with COVID-19 are likely to become infected with this mutation again.
Are vaccines effective against the Omicron variant?
Medical scientists and research centres worldwide are working hard to find out what impact this variant may have on current countermeasures, including vaccines. An official from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) claimed that covaxin is more effective against the Omicron variant than other Covid-19 vaccines. Still, there is no clinical evidence to support the statement.
The current tests can detect Omicron infections, but are they compelling enough?
RT-PCR tests are widely used to detect COVID infection, including the Delta and the Omicron variant. WHO and its partner perform experiments to find whether the tests are accurate enough to detect the infection before it becomes severe.
Are the current treatments effective enough to handle Omicron?
According to the WHO, current treatment (corticosteroids and IL6 receptor blockers) for COVID-19 variants, including Omicron, may still be effective even for patients with severe symptoms. Other treatment options are being evaluated to determine whether they are still effective over the changes in the Omicron variant.
Besides vaccinations, experts and health care professionals advise every individual to remain vigilant.
Furthermore, the health care authorities must increase surveillance, establish more COVID testing centres and implement appropriate COVID prevention restrictions. Everyone needs to protect themselves by wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and washing hands regularly.
Some reports say that the new Omicron COVID variant has already penetrated the walls of India, and nobody knows when it will start causing trouble in the country. So stay safe and keep in mind that prevention is always the key.