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What we know about the Omicron variant so far

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Photo: Al Bello / Getty Images

In mid-November, scientists in South Africa (where there is a strong gene sequencing program) discovered a new variant of coronavirus, which WHO has since being named Omicron. WHO has classified Omicron as a “variant of interest”, along with strains of Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta – the second strain is currently the common strain in most countries around the world. To be labeled a “variant of interest”, a variation needs to meet one or more of the three diagnostic criteria: it’s essentially more contagious, more severe (or different in symptoms), or less effective than available vaccines and medications.

In response to South Africa’s announcement, several countries – including the United States – banned travel from the country (at least among non-citizens), a measure that some scientists not thought to slow the spread. NS first case of the Omicron variant in the US has since been identified in California.

Health officials are racing to learn more about the new variant, and there’s a lot they don’t know. This is what we do know so far.

While it appears that President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci repeatedly mentioned the “omni-cron” variant during an initial press conference, the consensus seems to be that it is pronounced “ahm-ih-cron” ” or “ohm-ih-cron . ”

Scientists still don’t know for sure, but the rate of spread in South Africa seems likely. “Right now, what we see in terms of transmissibility is that Omicron is definitely overtaking Delta in South Africa in fish numbers,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board. may be infected. The Omicron variant has been identified in more than 20 countriesand Osterholm said he expects Omicron to be found in 40 to 50 countries by the end of the first week of December. “It moves fast,” he explains. “I have little doubt that this will become the dominant variant in the very near future for much of the world.”

However, Dr. Waleed Javaid, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai, said it is possible that the rate of transmission in South Africa will not be as high as worldwide. “Omicron spreads rapidly in certain populations in Africa, but that doesn’t mean it will behave similarly here,” he said. According to Javaid, the hope is that the travel ban gives us a little more time to better understand the variations before they arrive (or start a massive spread).

Again, we don’t know yet. Javaid says he’s heard that Omicron can present as a milder illness, as has Dr. Adam Ratner, director of pediatric infectious diseases at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. However, they emphasize that it is too early to know for sure. “A lot of the initial information came from local doctors on Twitter,” says Ratner. “I think that’s okay and thank goodness people are communicating about the variation, but there’s not enough data.”

Osterholm adds that because the earliest reports of Omicrons have been seen in young, healthy adults, we cannot assume that the infection will be mild for everyone. “As an epidemiologist who has worked with a lot of emerging disease outbreaks, you have to be very careful with those early reports,” he warned. “We can often see a delay of two weeks or more between the onset of cases and the actual onset of severe illness.” Because the Omicron variant was recently discovered, and because hospitalizations and deaths are lagging index, we still do not have a clear picture of the severity of the strain. Troublesomely, Omicron-related hospitalizations are currently start to increase in South Africa.

Because the Omicron variant has many mutations for the mutant protein, and because the mutant protein is the target of the current COVID vaccine, there is some concern that Omicron may prove more resistant to the vaccine, Ratner said. previous strains. “The fact that there is a mutation doesn’t mean these won’t work,” he said. “Delta also has mutations, and vaccines work well against that, as do monoclonal antibodies. But it takes some time to figure that out.” Ratner added that he believes it’s highly unlikely that Omicron will evade the vaccine entirely – and even in that worst-case scenario, vaccine manufacturers could adapt existing vaccines to protect against it. against this new strain (which they had start to work). “It’s an example of the power of the mRNA platform on this disease,” he said. “You don’t start from the square.” However, an Omicron-specific shot would likely take “three and a half to four months” to develop, Osterholm said.

First and foremost: Get vaccinated if you haven’t already. These vaccines provide excellent protection against severe illness caused by Delta, which is currently the most dominant strain of the virus in the United States. If you are an adult and have not received booster shot, you should do so, According to CDC. “We now have 120 million Americans who received the full dose by June 1 of this year, and of that 120 million, only 37 million received a booster dose,” said Osterholm. “That means 83 million Americans are becoming more and more susceptible to disease because of their weakened immunity.” While we don’t know yet what the effect of the booster against Omicron is, we do know it reduces both risk of infection and serious illness caused by previous strains.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks indoors (outside the home) and look as far away as possible. “Even before this variation, we saw increased COVID activity across large parts of the country,” Ratner said. “It’s frustrating because I think we should all be doing more than we’re doing in terms of masks when staying indoors with groups of people you don’t live with.”

Not necessarily, but you should be cautious. “The pandemic is not over yet,” said Javaid. “All kinds of planning need to be done with a grain of salt.”

Because there’s so much we don’t know about Omicron, it’s hard to give specific guidance for this variant, says Ratner. And while we’re in a much better position than last holiday season, he added, certain restrictions still apply: “Should you hold large indoor gatherings with very small crowds? Are many people unvaccinated? The answer to that is no, whatever the variation is.”

However, there is no need to despair or panic to cancel any plans. If you’ve been vaccinated and boosted, and so are the people you’re hoping to gather with (and if any kids can’t get vaccinated get tested first), “I think that’s still appropriate.” compared to Omicron,” says Osterholm.

This article has been updated.

https://www.thecut.com/2021/12/what-we-know-about-the-omicron-variant-so-far.html What we know about the Omicron variant so far

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