Omicron cases surge in India: all you need to know about this COVID 19 variant

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Not only WHO has identified the COVID-19 Omicron as a variant of concern (VoC), but it has become a global concern in such a short time, based on evidence that it contains many mutations that could affect how it acts. There is still a lot of uncertainty about Omicron, and a lot of studies are being done to determine its transmissibility, severity, and risk of reinfection.

On November 24, 2021, the B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant was first reported to WHO in South Africa. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the most recent of which was driven by the Delta strain. The finding of the B.1.1.529 strain coincided with a substantial increase in infections in recent weeks. The first confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was discovered in a specimen taken on November 9, 2021.

The initial study suggests that Omicron may have a higher probability of reinfection than other variations of concern for example those who have previously had COVID-19 may be more easily reinfected with Omicron, although the evidence is limited.

Further information on this will become available in the upcoming days. This variant contains several mutations, some of which are troublesome. Initial research shows that Omicron has a higher risk of reinfection than other VOCs. The frequency of occurrences with this variant has been observed growing in almost all of South Africa’s provinces. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics still detect this variant. Several labs have reported that one of the three target genes is missing from a commonly used PCR test (known as S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and that this test can be used as a flag for this variant pending sequencing confirmation.

So many researchers are currently going, and the TAG-VE will continue to assess this variant. As additional information becomes available, WHO will share it with the Member States and the general public. The TAG-VE has informed WHO that this variant should be declared as a VOC, and the WHO has identified B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron, based on the information given indicating a deleterious shift in COVID-19 epidemiology.

What current state of knowledge about Omicron we have :

Researchers in South Africa and across the world are researching to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.  

The Transmissibility of Omicron: 

Omicron is transmitting at a faster rate than the other variants. WHO, based on current data, predicts that Omicron will likely exceed the Delta variant if COVID-19 transmission is present in the population. As a result people and countries across the world are advised to take precautionary measures suggested by WHO.

The most common symptoms of Omicron:

According to a CDC analysis of the first 43 cases investigated in the United States, coughing, weariness, congestion, and runny nose are the four most common symptoms of the omicron form.

People infected with COVID-19 can experience a wide range of symptoms, having two main symptoms of cough and loss of smell.

The CDC cautioned that the case features presented in this analysis may not be generalizable, as the findings could be linked to individual characteristics. Nonetheless, preliminary and current research suggests that different variations may cause diverse symptoms. After the delta variation gained supremacy this summer, researchers in the United Kingdom tracked self-reported COVID-19 symptom data from the general public and discovered that the top symptoms shifted to headache, sore throat, and runny nose.

The severity of Omicron disease: 

Omicron appears to be less severe than Delta, according to preliminary studies, but further research is needed, and the World Health Organization warns that it should not be dismissed as “mild.” 

Hospitalization rates in South Africa are increasing, according to early statistics, but this could be linked to an increase in the overall number of people becoming infected rather than a specific Omicron infection. There is no indication that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those associated with other variants at this time. Infections were first discovered in university students, who are younger and have a weaker form of the disease, but determining the severity of the Omicron variant will take days to weeks. All COVID-19 variants, including the worldwide prevalent Delta variant, can cause serious illness or death, particularly in the most vulnerable individuals, hence prevention is always the best approach.

It’s important to remember that all COVID-19 variants, including the Delta form, which is still widespread around the world, can cause serious disease or death, which is why preventing the virus’s spread and minimising your risk of infection are so critical.

The Vaccine’s Effectiveness on Omicron:

WHO is researching with technical partners to see how this variant’s affects established countermeasures like vaccinations. Vaccines, particularly those against Delta, the most common circulating type, are critical in reducing severe disease and death. Immunizations that are currently available are still effective in preventing serious illness and death.

Existing testing’s effectiveness:

The routinely used PCR assays continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as they did with previous variants. Other diagnostics, such as rapid antigen detection tests, are being investigated to see if they have any influence.

The efficacy of current treatments:

In the treatment of patients with severe COVID-19, corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will continue to be effective. Other treatments will be tested to see if they are still effective in light of the Omicron variant’s alterations to the virus’s structure.

Research is also being carried out:

WHO is currently working with a vast number of researchers from across the world to better understand the new variant Omicron. Assessments of transmissibility, the severity of illness (including symptoms), the performance of vaccinations and diagnostic tests, and the success of therapies are all currently underway or will be soon.

WHO urges countries to contribute to the gathering and sharing of hospitalized patient data using the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Data Platform, which allows clinicians to quickly characterize clinical characteristics and outcomes.

It is expected that more information will become available in the next days and weeks. TAG-VE of the WHO will continue to monitor and evaluate data as it becomes available, as well as assess how mutations in Omicron affect the virus’s behavior.

The precautionary steps people should take to reduce the spread of Omicron:

Individuals can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus by keeping a distance of at least 1 metre from each other, wearing a well-fitting mask, staying in well-ventilated space, avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, keeping hands clean, coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, and getting vaccinated when their turn comes.

WHO will continue to offer updates as more information becomes available, including following TAG-VE meetings. 

  • Put on a mask that covers your mouth and nose properly.
  • When putting on and taking off your mask, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Maintain a physical gap of at least 1 meter between yourself and others.
  • Avoid crowded or poorly ventilated areas.
  • Increase indoor ventilation by opening windows.
  • Hands should be washed frequently.
  • Get immunized when it’s your turn. COVID-19 vaccinations that have been approved by the World Health Organization are both safe and effective.
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