The World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Viral Evolution (TAG-VE) dubbed the new COVID-19 virus variant “Omicron” on November 26, 2021. COVID-19’s latest variant is also known as B.1.1.529. In areas where there is a history of community transmission, Omicron is expected to spread rapidly, even surpassing the rate of transmission of the Delta variant of Covid-19. This new variety continues to pose a significant risk creating fear in the minds of innumerable people.
When a virulent disease spreads widely and causes a large number of infections, the virus’s chances of mutating increase. A virus’s dynamics change as its chances of spreading grow, which means that the more hosts it finds, the more it changes into various forms. New variants like Omicron and the subsequent development of new variants put it evidently that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.
Impact of Omicron Variant
The Omicron variant, which has over 30 mutations on the spike protein of the coronavirus, can escape the immunity chain that is developed in the body with the vaccines. Past research by the Health security agency of the UK shows that Omicron diminishes the effect of two-dose Pfizer vaccines and other vaccines like Covisheild. For instance, the AstraZeneca vaccine offered up to 60% protection against the Delta variant 25 weeks after completion of the doses. In Omicron’s case, this was right down to 40%. Some early findings suggest that Omicron may exceed the transmission rate of even the Delta variant, which was found to be the most transmissible coronavirus variant in history. But the WHO is yet unclear if the faster spread translates to Omicron’s inherent virulence.
Based on limited existing evidence, Omicron appears to own a growth advantage over Delta. The WHO has stated that in the Republic of South Africa and other nations of Africa, where the spike of delta variant was relatively low, Omicron is rising in its transmissibility and infecting more people.
Even after dedicated study and analysis, it is challenging to state whether Omicron’s rising rate in nations with a vast population results from a decreased level of immunity or the effect of Omicron variant ability to transmit at a higher rate than other variants of Covid-19 virus.
Nevertheless, the statement of WHO has observed that considering the data of transmission, it is possible that Omicron will replace Delta virus as the virus which has affected the most number of people.
In India particularly, 6,000 cases have been identified till January 17, 2022.
The most common symptoms for the new COVID-19 variant “Omicron” are fever, cough, and tiredness, loss of taste or smell. Other symptoms include headache, diarrhea, pain, aches, skin discoloration, irritation in the eyes, pharyngitis, et cetera.
- Serious symptoms of the new COVID Variant “Omicron” are difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath, loss of speech or mobility, or confusion or pain.
- As per data analyzed by scientists, only 50% of Covid-infected people experienced fever, cough, or loss of smell and taste.
- Loss of appetite was regarded as one of the foremost surprising symptoms among many. Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) has stated that there’s no clear proof regarding the transmissibility, immune evasion or severity of Omicron in India. INSACOG has briefed that though the severity is still not as high, the possibility is still looming over the Indian population of a surge in Covid-19 cases, with more people getting an infection of the Omicron virus. It further states that while the Delta variant, including its B.1.617.2 (AY) and AY.x sub-lineages, continues to be the most variant of concern globally, Omicron is increasing to such a large extent.
Protection Against the Omicron Variant
It will take some weeks to find out critical aspects about this latest variant, including whether it’s more contagious, causes more severe illness, or evades immunity. In the meantime, says Dr. Julie Vaishampayan of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, it is better to cover oneself with as many layers as possible under medical guidance. That’s especially important with holiday travel and gatherings around the corner.
- Apart from the other alternatives, a booster is one among those potent layers. It is a fact that the added dose of any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines triggers a giant jump in virus-fighting antibodies.
- But, those elderly people, patients with co-morbidities and those workers who are at the forefront of fighting the COVID-19 disease should be given first preference for availing booster doses.
- Taking a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients and minerals, abstaining from large crowds, and further facilitating adequate ventilation are the defensive steps in protecting ourselves from this deadly virus. All these are suggested as precautionary measures to curb the spread of the disease.
- At a personal level, frequent hand washing, wearing potent masks, preferably N-95 or surgical masks (should be disposed of after single use), and avoiding human physical contact can be quite helpful in ensuring protection against Omicron variant.