Virus variants develop when a change or mutation occurs in the virus’s genome. RNA viruses, like the Covid-19, have a tendency to develop and alter slowly. And, Geographic separation can create genetically different variations. Omicron is a new COVID-19 variant that is shaking the world once again.
On Friday, WHO identified a new COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa as a “variant of concern”. A variant of concern has been reported to be more infectious, more likely to induce breakthroughs or re-infections in vaccinated or previously infected individuals. These variations are more likely to induce severe disease, to evade diagnosis, or to resist antiviral therapy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the B.1.1.529 variation, called ‘Omicron,’ as having a “very high” number of mutations. Preliminary information from WHO also indicates a higher risk of reinfection with this variant of concern when compared to other variants such as Delta.
The variant has already been identified in many coronavirus cases in South Africa, as well as suspected cases in Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Currently, the number of reported cases appears to be increasing in almost all South African provinces. According to WHO, the variation has been found at a quicker pace than in past outbreaks, indicating that it may have a greater rate of spreading.
As a result, the discovery of a novel Covid-19 variant (Omicron) in South Africa provoked certain reactions, including travel restrictions in at least six African countries. To further understand the mutation, the experts have advised governments to increase monitoring and genome sequencing efforts.
A number of studies are also being conducted by the WHO (TAG-VE) advisory committee to further investigate this variant. As needed, WHO will convey additional findings to Member States and the general public.
It’s worth noting that information is still limited. It is yet unknown how successful vaccines will be in preventing it. There are less than 100 whole genome sequences available, which is why there hasn’t been much clearance yet. Researchers are presently attempting to determine the mutations and assess what they may signify for diagnostics, treatments, and vaccinations to prevent spreading this variant.
Hence Scientists currently lack sufficient evidence to determine how harmful this variety may be. Scientists will need a few weeks to figure out what effect this variant has.
What is different about Omicron B.1.1.529?
There’s evidence that some gene mutations in SARS-CoV-2 can result in a more infectious variant. The number of mutations is thought to be at least 32 at the present in Omicron variant, which raises worries about the virus’s ability to evade vaccines and spread.
However the full effect of the new variant is still now unknown.
How to Protect yourself and others from Omicron?
The more this virus spreads, the more likely it will mutate. Prevention is usually the best protection against COVID-19 variants, particularly the Delta version, which is prevalent globally.
To avoid coming into contact with the virus, closely follow the directions below.
- Get vaccinated as soon as possible, make sure you get the entire course of your doses, and take precautions to minimize your exposure and protect yourself from spreading the virus to others.
- Wear a mask. Everyone above the age of two who has not been completely vaccinated should wear a mask in public locations.
- Maintain a 6-foot distance between yourself and others.
- Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated places.
- Conduct a test to ensure that the disease does not spread to others. Testing can tell you if you are at risk of transmitting COVID-19.
- Wash your hands often.
- Keep coughs and sneezes covered.
- Clean and disinfect. Clean high-touch surfaces on a daily basis. Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks should be cleaned and disinfected.
- Monitor your health daily. Be on the lookout for COVID-19 signs such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms. If symptoms appear, take your temperature.
Even if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, don’t let your guard down.
Laboratory studies suggest that some immune responses generated by existing vaccinations may be less effective against some of these variants. Vaccines, however, continue to be crucial in lowering severe disease and mortality, including against the major circulating variety, Delta. Current vaccines continue to protect against serious illness and death.
People who have received the vaccines should keep an eye out for changes in CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and continue with COVID safety procedures to limit the risk of infection, such as mask use, isolation, and hand hygiene.