On the guidance of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), WHO recognized the variety B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, termed Omicron Virus, on November 26, 2021. This conclusion was made based on data submitted to the TAG-VE that the Omicron Virus contains a number of alterations that could affect how it acts, such as how easy it spreads or the severity of the sickness it causes.
What is Omicron Virus?
After identifying the coronavirus strain B.1.1.529, dubbed ‘Omicron,’ as a variety of concerns earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its latest results on Sunday, amid growing worry around the world. Covid Omega Variant emerges when SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the significance of each variation is identified after some time. Health officials throughout the world, on the other hand, should indeed keep a tight check on which are more important than others. As part of such an experiment, the NGS-SA identified B.1.1.529. According to what is currently known, B.1.1.529 has multiple spike protein mutations, and preliminary research suggests it is highly infectious. South Africa has witnessed a four-fold increase in new cases in the last two weeks, coinciding with the arrival of B.1.1.529. According to the NGS-SA, B.1.1.529 has swiftly spread throughout Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, and may already be present in most provinces. According to the NGS-SA, cluster outbreaks may be to blame for the continuous rise in cases. Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand several features of the Omicron variety, according to the World Health Organization.
Omicron Virus Transmissibility
It’s unknown whether Omicron Virus is more transmissible (i.e., easier to transfer from person to person) than other variations, such as Delta. In areas of South Africa afflicted by this variation, the number of people testing positive has increased, but epidemiologic studies are planned to determine if this is due to Omicron or other factors.
Omicron Virus Severity
It’s unknown whether Omicron Virus causes more severe disease than infections caused by other variations, such as Delta. Data suggests that hospitalization rates are rising in South Africa, however, this could be due to an increase in the general number of persons being infected rather than a specific Omicron illness. There is no indication that the symptoms linked with Omicron are different from those associated with other variants at this time. Infections were first identified among university students and younger people who had a milder form of the disease. However, determining the severity of the Omicron version will take days or even weeks. All COVID-19 variations, including the globally widespread Delta variant, can cause severe sickness or death, especially in the most fragile people, hence prevention is always the best option.
What are the changes that make this Variant Distinct?
According to the NGS-SA, the new variety B.1.1.529 contains “rather strange constellations of mutations,” with 30 in the region that encodes the spike protein, which is critical for the virus’s entry into human cells. Some of the variations are reported to be well-characterized, with a known phenotypic influence on transmissibility and immune resistance. In the Alpha and Delta forms, some of these changes have already been discovered. According to the NGS-SA, several additional variations have been “rarely detected till recently and not fully described.” As a result, the entire impact of these changes is still uncertain. The Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated, “More research is being conducted to determine the potential impact of these mutations on the virus’s ability to transmit more efficiently, to influence vaccine effectiveness and evade the immune response, and/or to cause more severe or milder disease.
Omicron Virus Mutations that Needs to be Concerned About
- According to the NGS-SA, a group of mutations known as H655Y + N679K + P681H is linked to more efficient cell entrance, implying increased transmissibility.
- There is also an nsp6 deletion, which is comparable to the deletions seen in the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Lambda forms. This could be linked to innate immunity evasion, which would increase transmissibility, according to the NGS-SA.
- The new variety carries the R203K + G204R alterations, which are also found in Alpha, Gamma, and Lambda and are linked to higher infectivity.
The WHO’s technical advisory panel assembled on Friday to assess the new variant and label it as a variant of concern, according to the WHO. This suggests that Omicron has been connected to one or more of the following changes i.e., increased transmissibility and decreased diagnostic, vaccine, and therapeutic efficacy.
“Our colleagues in South Africa discovered and reported this variant to us,” Maria Van Kerkohove, WHO’s Covid-19 Technical Lead, said earlier in the day in a statement. Only a few hundred whole-genome sequencing kits are available. At the present, we don’t know much about it. We do know that he has a large number of mutations in his variant. There’s also concern that having so many mutations would affect how the virus behaves.
How will scientists determine the efficiency of vaccines and the severity of Virus?
The epidemiological and clinical association of Omicron hasn’t been clearly established. Without it, scientists will be unable to establish a direct relationship between the wave and any other factor. South Africa has begun to examine the immunological escape potential of B.1.1.529 in a laboratory setting. This will also indicate how effective current vaccinations are. It has also built up a real-time system to track hospitalizations and outcomes associated with B.1.1.529. The data will reveal whether the alteration is linked to the severity of sickness or has an effect on the efficacy of hospital-based treatment medications.
Prior SARS-CoV-2 Infection’s Effectiveness
Preliminary research suggests that Omicron may have a higher probability of re-infection than other variations of concern i.e., those who have previously had COVID-19 may be more easily re-infected with Omicron, although the evidence is limited. In the next days and weeks, more information about this will become accessible.
- Vaccine Effectiveness: WHO is working with technical partners to determine the impact of this variation on existing countermeasures, such as vaccines. Vaccines, notably those against the major circulating form, Delta, are crucial in lowering severe disease and death. Current immunizations are still effective in preventing serious illness and death.
- Effectiveness of Existing Testing: As with previous variants, the commonly used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron. Other types of tests, such as quick antigen detection tests, are being studied to see if there is any impact.
- Current Treatments’ Efficacy: Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will continue to be successful in the treatment of patients with severe COVID-19. Other therapies will be evaluated to see if they are still effective in light of the Omicron variant’s alterations to portions of the virus.
Actions that Countries Should Take
Because Omicron has been declared as a Variant of Concern, WHO recommends that countries improve monitoring and sequencing of cases, share genome sequences on public databases like GISAID, report preliminary cases or clusters to WHO, and conduct field research and laboratory assessments to fully understand if Omicron has distinct transmission or disease characteristics, or has an impact on vaccine effectiveness. Countries must continue to use a risk assessment and science-based approach to undertake appropriate public health interventions to limit COVID-19 circulation generally. To deal with an increase in instances, they need to expand some public health and medical capacities. WHO provides help and advice to nations in terms of both preparation and reaction. Furthermore, inconsistencies in COVID-19 vaccine access must be quickly addressed to guarantee that vulnerable groups worldwide, including health professionals and the elderly, receive their first and second doses, as well as fair access to medical care and testing.
Omicron Virus Precautions Recommended by the WHO
Some of the Precautions recommended by the WHO to stop the spread of the disease are as follows:
- Maintain a physical gap of at least 1 metre between yourself and others.
- Put on a mask
- Increase ventilation by opening windows.
- Always wash your hands.
- Avoid crowded or non – ventilated areas.
- Vaccinate yourself