Omicron: All You Need To Know About Covid-19’s New Variant
It’s been two years since the SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 changed the world forever. While 2020 was marred with strict lockdowns and travel restrictions, 2021 emerged as a bigger challenge with a devastating second wave. However, things started to look up soon, thanks to an extensive vaccination programme that galvanized our collective immunity against the virus. But, a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has emerged in November 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named this new variant Omicron and stated it as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
How & when was Omicron identified?
When a virus circulates in great vigour and causes more infections, it is more likely to mutate. The now-named Omicron variant was first identified at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa in November 2021. They initially called this the B.1.1.529 variant. On November 26th
2021, WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) gave the nomenclature to this variant as Omicron. Since then, the Omicron variant has been detected in many countries and the WHO warns that it’s probably present in most countries, even if it remains undetected.
What about the severity of Omicron’s infection?
There is preliminary evidence to suggest that the Omicron variant is more infectious than the Delta variant. That’s because the Omicron variant has more mutations in its spike protein than the Delta variant. To put it simply, spike proteins are present on the membrane of a virus. The more the spike proteins, the easier it is for the virus to penetrate human cells and cause infection. Research has found that the Omicron strain has about 32 mutations which make it easier for the virus to attach itself to a human cell.
Who’s at risk & what are the symptoms of infection?
As per the WHO, it is not clear yet whether Omicron causes more severe disease compared to other variants. Research is underway to confirm if symptoms associated with Omicron are different from previous variants. Till now, it has been observed that all variants of COVID-19, including the most dominant Delta variant, can cause disease or mortality. Preliminary evidence suggests that people have had COVID-19 previously could get re-infected more easily with Omicron. People who are immune-compromised, or have a chronic illness, are more likely to get infected by Omicron.
What’s our best bet against Omicron?
Prevention is key to stop the spread of the Omicron virus. The good news is that we do have the tools to fight the infection.
- Vaccination remains a crucial measure to protect people from contracting COVID-19 and slow down its transmission. Vaccines also ensure that the rate of mutation of the virus gets significantly reduced.
- Health experts and scientists continue to emphasize on masks being a protection tool against COVID-19. It is recommended that people wear mask in indoor setting or in places where transmission is easy, even if you are vaccinated.
- Rigorous testing and sample surveys can analyze the severity of the infection and help us prepare better against a possible Omicron wave.
- Ensure social distancing and hand hygiene religiously. It also helps to avoid crowded places until necessary.
- If you experience COVID-19 symptoms like fever, headache, cough, difficulty in breathing, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell, or fatigue, make sure to consult your doctor and self-isolate.
Our biggest protection against COVID-19 is really in our hands. Always follow COVID-appropriate behavior and get tested if you experience symptoms.