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What Experts Know About Omicron’s “Variant of Concern”

(HealthDay)-Hope for pandemic mitigation has brought about a major setback on Thanksgiving weekend. There was news that the first mutants found in southern Africa had a number of mutations that could be resistant to the approved vaccine.

At an emergency meeting held on Friday by the World Health Organization, the agency Mutant, Initially labeled B.1.1.529 and named Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek letter.

Agency exclusive Omicron is a “variant of concern”. This is the most serious category used by agencies to track new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The global response was swift as the market plummeted and flights from southern African countries were banned due to the detection of Omicron cases in Africa and isolated cases elsewhere.

So far, flights from this region have been suspended by the United States, the European Union, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries, at least in the hope of delaying the arrival of variants.

It may already be too late. Cases have been recorded in the United Kingdom and the European Union, and two cases of Omicron infection were reported in North America on Sunday.according to statement “Two individuals in Ottawa tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant on a recent trip from Nigeria,” the Ottawa Public Health Department in Ontario, Canada, announced on Sunday.

On Saturday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement So far, he emphasizes, “So far, no cases of this variant have been identified in the United States.” “The CDC is continuously monitoring subspecies, and the US subspecies monitoring system is steadily detecting new variants in the country. If it appears in the US, Omicron will be quickly identified. I’m expecting it. “

according to statement From the White House, President Joe Biden met with Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of the COVID response team on Sunday to explain the Omicron variant.

“Dr. Forch will take another two weeks to give the president more clear information about the infectivity, severity, and other characteristics of the mutant, but existing vaccines may provide some protection. He said he continued to believe. A serious case of COVID. “

“Importance unknown”

In the meantime, little is known about how much Omicron can pose a great threat to people, whether vaccinated or not. However, mutations in the vast number of viral spike proteins, an important anatomical structure that viruses use to infect cells, have surprised scientists.

“This variant surprised us, but its full importance is still unknown,” Dr. Tuliode Olivera, head of the South African Epidemic Response and Innovation Center, said in a media briefing Thursday. His team said they found more than 30 mutations in the peplomer on the surface of the coronavirus.

This is potentially worrisome because the composition of peplomer proteins is the primary target of the antibodies that the immune system produces to recognize and attack the coronavirus. Experts pointed out that if the protein is too different from previous versions, Omicron may evade antibodies produced by either previous infections or vaccines.

Still, scientists emphasized that research on new varieties is still in its infancy. Omicron was first discovered in Botswana. There, a team from the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory in Gaborone sequenced the genetic code of a coronavirus sample tested positive for the mutant. New York Times report. At that point, the samples shared about 50 mutations previously not seen in such mixes.

according to Times, De Olivera said Thursday that “nearly 200 or 300” sequences of South African cases involving Omicron would be announced to researchers within a few days. According to the report, at least 6 cases have been detected in Botswana, and isolated cases among travelers have been found in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Hong Kong. Media coverage..

Still, one of the virology and infectious disease experts urged people not to immediately expect the worst from Omicron. Can variants cause more serious illness? Can it circumvent the current vaccine? Dr. Ameshua Dalha, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Health and Security Center in Baltimore, warned that all of this was unknown.

“It’s too early to know what level of threat B.1.1.529 constitutes because we don’t have enough information about the identified cases, especially clinical information,” Adalja said. He said there was one early sign of hope. “Few inpatients in South Africa have been vaccinated, and they seem to claim that the vaccine prevents the problem.” Only about a quarter of South Africa’s population is vaccinated.

Abnormal symptoms

As the British newspaper reported Telegraph On Saturday, one of the first South African doctors to warn about Omicron said he was initially confused by the unusual but mild symptoms of some COVID-19 patients who arrived at her clinic in Pretoria. I did.

Many patients arrived feeling tired, Dr. Angelique Kotze told the newspaper, but there was no loss of smell and taste typical of SARS-CoV-2 infections. She said that many were otherwise healthy young men, and about half were unvaccinated.

“There was one very interesting case. It was a child about 6 years old with a very high temperature and a very high pulse rate. I wondered if I should admit her. [to hospital].. But when I followed up two days later, she got a lot better. “

There are early signs that Omicron can quickly infect the entire population.according to Times, Tests designed to detect variants have shown a surge across South Africa. This suggests that it may be overtaking the delta variant, which is the dominant variant elsewhere.

Do current vaccines or antibody-based therapies protect against Omicron? Again, there is certainly not enough data to say, Adalja said.

“The presence of these mutations in the strain deserves a lot of research to characterize what it means for immunity. [vaccine- and infection-induced], And monoclonal antibodies. “

More than an antibody

According to Dr. Theodora Hatziionannou, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City, the combination of anomalous numbers and mutations detected in Omicron may have occurred in people with a weakened immune system, such as those living with HIV. It suggests that there is. In such cases, she said, SARS-CoV-2 could stay in the body for weeks or months, giving it time to develop multiple mutations. Times.

“This virus has seen many antibodies,” said Hatziionannou, raising concerns that the peplomer may confer resistance to antibodies produced by previous infections or harvests of current vaccines.

However, she also emphasized that the human immune system relies not only on antibodies, but on other players such as immune cells to control the infection. Therefore, experts believe that the vaccine is likely to have some effect on Omicron.

She added that booster shots may also help because they increase the types of antibodies available. “Research is still underway, so we’ll see,” Hatziionannou said. Times.

Experts say that other variants (eg Beta and Mu) have shown the ability to evade immune defenses, but have failed because they were not good at spreading among people. And while Omicron appears to be widespread in South Africa, reasons other than its innate ability to do so can explain it.

Dr. William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University Times “It’s too early to decide,” he said, noting that the overall rate of new daily infections in South Africa remains very low.

He also believes that a travel ban may buy a country unaffected by Omicron for a short time, but that’s not a long-term solution.

Adalja agreed. He said he believed that a travel ban could even be counterproductive.

“The travel ban does little to prevent the spread, but penalizes countries that are keen to report varieties,” he said. He said the Omicron incident found in Belgium “has nothing to do with South Africa or South African countries.”


S. Africa could exceed 10,000 COVID cases per day this week: Epidemiologist


For more information:
For more information on the SARS-CoV-2 variant, CDC.

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What Experts Know About Omicron’s “Variant of Concern”

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