Omicron Variant: What We Know About the New Coronavirus Variant

On November 26, 2021, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution, WHO identified variation B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, dubbed Omicron (TAG-VE). Researchers in South Africa and worldwide are researching to understand several facets of Omicron better and publish their results as they become available. It is unknown if Omicron is more accessible to pass from person to person than other variations, including Delta. Although the frequency of positive tests has grown in regions of South Africa affected by this variation, epidemiologic studies are intended to determine if the increase is due to Omicron or other causes.

It is still unknown if infection with Omicron produces more severe disease than infection with other forms, such as Delta. Although preliminary statistics show that hospitalization rates are increasing in South Africa, this may be attributable to a growth in the available number of sick persons rather than to a particular infection with Omicron. There is currently no proof that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those associated with other variations. The first cases were recorded among university students, younger persons who typically have a milder disease but specifying the severity of the Omicron form would take days to many weeks. All COVID-19 variations, including the dominant Delta variant globally, are capable of causing severe illness or death, specifically in the most susceptible populations; hence, prevention is always crucial.

Preliminary research shows that, compared to other variations of concern, there may be an increased likelihood of reinfection with Omicron; those who have previously had COVID-19 may get reinfected more readily with Omicron. Moreover, the World Health Organization collaborates with technical partners to assess the possible impact of this variation on current countermeasures, including vaccinations. Vaccines continue to be crucial in lowering severe illness and mortality, notably those caused by the significant circulating variation, Delta. 

Current assays effectively detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have shown with other variations. Other kinds of testing, including rapid antigen detection tests, are being studied to establish any effect. In addition, corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will be beneficial in controlling patients with severe COVID-19. Other therapies will be assessed to see whether they remain effective in light of the virus’s modifications in the Omicron form.

WHO is now collaborating with many researchers from across the globe to understand Omicron better. Several studies are ongoing or will begin soon to investigate transmissibility, infection severity including symptoms, the performance of vaccinations and diagnostic tests, and the efficacy of therapies. WHO urges nations to gather and exchange data on hospitalized patients using the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Data Platform to quickly define clinical features and patient outcomes.

As Omicron has been designated a Variant of Concern, WHO recommends that countries take several actions, including increasing surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly accessible databases, such as GISAID; reporting initial cases or clusters to WHO, and conducting field investigations and laboratory assessments to determine whether Omicron has distinct transmission or disease characteristics or affects vaccine effectiveness. They should strengthen specific public health and medical capabilities to cope with increased instances. WHO is assisting and guiding nations in their preparedness and response efforts. Additionally, it is critical to address discrepancies in COVID-19 vaccination access immediately to ensure that vulnerable populations worldwide, particularly health professionals and older adults, get their first and second doses, as well as get enough access for the treatment and diagnostics.

PCR tests provide positive results days to weeks after infection because they detect minute quantities of viral genetic material that are not necessarily infectious. In the United Kingdom, the period required for infected persons to be isolated has been decreased from ten to seven days, provided that rapid antigen tests come back negative. These must be conducted on days six and seven, with a minimum of 24 hours between them. Individuals should, nevertheless, take care of others and avoid those who are vulnerable.

To know more below is an infographic from Harley Medic International entitled “Omicron Variant: What we know about the new coronavirus variant.”



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