OMICRON

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Consultant Microbiologist, Telemedicine Department

There is a rising global concern and fear over Omicron – the novel coronavirus variant that was detected in South Africa. Medical experts are of the opinion that the variant could perhaps be the most infectious mutant of the coronavirus, and there is also a grave probability that the current vaccines might be ineffective against Omicron. 

How different is Omicron?

Despite the fact that are many variants of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the significant factors that define the threat of Omicron to infect human beings are the increased virulence or reduced effectiveness of the vaccines against Omicron. As of date, the WHO has designated five SARS-CoV-2 variants, namely,

  • Alpha Variant
  • Beta Variant
  • Gamma Variant
  • Delta Variant
  • Omicron variant

The Omicron is different from all the variants since it has the maximum mutations. The Omicron variant has undergone 60 mutations from the Wuhan strain. The high rate of these mutations has not been observed with the other strains. The high mutation rate of the Omicron has alarmed Medical experts worldwide as they have a significant implication on the efficacy of the vaccine and disease dynamics.

Sub lineage of Omicron

The three sublineages or sub-variants of the Omicron are BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.3. BA.2 has been designated as the“stealth” Omicron as it cannot be detected by the conventional PCR tests since the unique genetic mutations of the virus are responsible for this feature. The WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have marked the stealth variant to be of grave concern and are closely monitoring the virus worldwide.

Symptoms of Omicron

The unique symptom of the stealth variant noted in patients is night sweats and backache. The typical loss of smell and taste that have been recorded in other coronavirus infections are apparently rare. 

Diagnosis of Omicron

There is a possibility that the stealth variant of the Omicron may be missed by the routine Polymerase chain reaction (PCR); the quantitative Polymerase chain reaction or the qPCR is a better option to detect the stealth variant.

Treatment of Omicron

Supportive measures and home quarantine will suffice for most omicron infections, and hospitalisation is not frequently required as compared to the Delta variant. The use of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of Omicron is being evaluated. 

Prevention of Omicron

As per the guidelines of the WHO, it is advised that individuals should continue to keep enclosed spaces well ventilated, avoid crowding and close contact, wear well-fitting masks, clean hands frequently and get vaccinated.

Conclusion

The omicron variant causes mild disease of COVID and hence can be easily treated at home with supportive care. However, more severe symptoms can develop in some cases and therefore needs to be managed with vigilance.

The high virulence rate causes the fast and easy spread of this variant, and hence all precautionary measures need to be taken to avoid contracting this viral illness.


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