What to know about Omicron?

Omicron is different from previous variants. The usual symptoms seen to date are fever, body aches, muscle aches, throat irritation (sore throat) and, in severe cases, shortness of breath. No loss of taste and odor has been observed so far with Omicron. Although it may be too early to clearly tell in the evolution of the pandemic and more data will become available in the days to come.

Omicron has an unusual constellation of mutations with over 30 mutations in the spike protein alone and another 10 mutations on the ACE receptors while in comparison Beta 3 has delta has 02. The mutation profile is different from the other variants.

The potential impact of mutations

  • Multiple RBD & NTD mutations associated with resistance to neutralizing antibodies.
  • Clusters of mutations adjacent to the S1/S2 furin cleavage site are associated with more efficient cell entry leading to increased transmissibility.
  • The nsp6 mutation may be associated with an evasion of innate immunity resulting in a failure of the body’s interferon protection due to antagonism.

the transmissibility is measured in terms of doubling time, various studies, as well as the WHO, currently estimate 2.5-3 days as the doubling time for Omicron. This means that Omicron has an advantage over Delta in terms of transmission, so in geographical regions with high transmission, the Delta variant will be overtaken and can be replaced by Omicron in 4-5 weeks, for example in South Africa. This has public health implications, as a large number of cases in a very short period of time can overwhelm the healthcare capacities of testing centers as well as hospitals, leading to unexpected deaths from reasons other than Covid. -19 that could otherwise have been easily avoided.

Is the Omicron variant dangerous?

Immune evasion is possible with Omicron. Breakthrough infections are common in people who have already been vaccinated. According to the WHO, as Omicron is competitively more infectious, there is an increased risk of re-infection compared to other COVID19 variants. It just means that people who had contracted Covid-19 earlier and recovered can still catch it again. In unvaccinated people, the danger is much greater. Currently, the continued increase in infections in Europe and America is in unvaccinated people.

Omicron is less likely to be neutralized by antibodies than the Delta variant. However, most cases are mild and there are fewer hospitalizations, lower oxygenation requirements compared to Delta or Delta plus. However, the disease can be severe in unvaccinated people or especially those with comorbidities such as diabetes mellitus, underlying heart disease, transplant recipients, chronic kidney disease, etc.

The effectiveness of vaccination

They will, however, be less effective compared to the protection offered against previous COVID 19 virus strains. A third dose may be needed, especially for frontline healthcare workers, over the age of 60, and those with comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, dialysis patients, patients on immunosuppressants, etc.

Hybrid immunity is intended to be protective. People who have achieved hybrid immunity through previous infection (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic) plus vaccination are likely to be better protected against the Omicron variant, especially against severe illness and death.

Go forward

The best way forward will be to take precautions. Avoid crowds and practice social distancing. Double masking is ideal, but use a good quality, well-fitting N95 face mask that covers at least the nose, mouth and chin. Ensure good ventilation. Vehicle windows should be lowered to allow cross ventilation when using public transport, e.g. taxis, buses, etc. Handwashing/hand sanitizing with alcohol-based sanitizers is imperative. Avoid non-essential travel. Most importantly, please vaccinate and complete pending injections, including the third dose/booster dose as soon as it becomes available.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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