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Omicron Variant B1.1.529 – All About The New Covid-19 Variant!

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • 5 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

While all of us are trying to get back to normalcy, with covid-19 cases declining over the past few weeks, the Omicron variant has brought questions if countries would go into another lock-down. It has been more than a year since the original strain was discovered in Wuhan of China and still the world is fighting against the virus. We have so far four variants of concern and WHO has added the new variant “Omicron” to the list. This article will help you understand the facts about the Omicron variant – B1.1.529.

Omicron Variant- the new variant of concern

Mutations are very common in viruses and we have seen more than 5 variants in the Covid-19 virus. But based on the transmissibility, evasion of immunity (natural or vaccine driven), and resistance to treatments, Variants are classified into Variants of Concern, Variants of Interest, and Variants of High consequence. Delta variant is the predominant strain across the globe and also it is the variant of Concern. It took months for the Delta variant to become a variant of concern while for Omicron it took a few weeks to come into this category which is a cause of concern now.

What do we know so far about the Omicron variant?

Covid-19 Variants & Mutations

  • The Omicron variant has many mutations overall and also has more than 30 mutations around the Spike protein region. This protein helps the virus to attach to our body and also antibodies are developed against this protein be it natural infection or after vaccination. 
  • Some of the mutations in Omicron are similar to the other four variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta which raised questions about severity and transmissibility.
  • It is not yet sure if the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the existing variants including Delta. Though the number of cases by Omicron variant has been increasing it is yet to be determined if this is due to increased transmissibility. 

Omicron: Symptoms, Reinfections & Vaccines

  • There seemed to be no difference in the symptoms caused by Omicron and other variants. Also, we need more evidence to see if the variant causes a more severe disease than the existing variants. 
  • Preliminary evidence suggested by WHO suggested that this variant caused more reinfections than other variants. Though Omicron caused infections in Vaccinated individuals in South Africa and other countries, it is too early to conclude if the variant causes more Breakthrough infections.
  • Questions about detecting the virus by RT-PCR did arise but the standard RT-PCR can detect the Omicron variant like the other variants.  Read more updates from the WHO.
  • Antibody cocktail and other treatments might not work effectively against the Omicron variant due to the number of mutations but we need more data to conclude on the same in the next few weeks.

Omicron in India

India has recorded 23 cases of Omicron variant on the second week of December. The first two covid cases with Omicron variant were detected in Karnataka on 2nd Dec; the new variant was found in two men aged 46 and 66 years old. New travel rules have been introduced in a few states to be more vigilant towards this new variant and ongoing covid cases.

The Indian government is monitoring the situation closely and is issuing suitable guidelines from time to time. Meanwhile, the scientific and medical community is geared up for developing and deploying diagnostics, carrying out genomic surveillance, generating evidence about viral and epidemiologic characteristics, and development of therapeutics.

Source: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/FAQsonOmicron.pdf

Will Omicron Variant cause a third-wave?

It is still unsure if the Omicron variant causes a third-wave.  Due to the vaccination and seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low. However, we will need more scientific evidence.

There is no evidence yet that Vaccines will not work against the Omicron variant. A recent study by Pfizer published that two doses of Vaccination is giving good protection against Omicron as well. Some of the mutations on Spike protein may decrease the efficacy but what we need to remember is Vaccination gives rise to both Antibody and cellular immunity. So Vaccines are expected to work against the new variant.

Omicron Variant – Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Should we worry about the Omicron variant Covid 19?

A. We have limited data on the Omicron variant and so far around 100 cases have been detected. So its too early to say if we should worry about the Omicron variant of Covid-19

Q. How dangerous is the Omicron variant of Covid 19?

A. Because of the mutations especially in the spike protein region the variant may evade immunity partially. Also, a few mutations are similar to the other four variants of concern with respect to transmissibility and severity. However, we need to closely monitor if it can become more predominant than the Delta variant.

Q. What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant of Covid 19?

A. Symptoms in the Omicron variant are similar to those of symptoms by other variants. These include fever, sore throat. Loss of smell, headache, and cough.

Q. What is the Omicron variant of Covid 19 and why is it a concern?

A. The Omicron variant is the new variant of concern and it has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein region and a few mutations are similar to the other variants including the delta variant. This may give rise to evasion of immunity and more severe disease.

Q. Can you still catch the COVID 19 Omicron variant if you are fully vaccinated?

A. Preliminary data from WHO has shown that infections were reported in Vaccinated individuals but we need more data to understand if this can actually evade immunity and cause significant reinfections.

Q. How can I protect myself and my family against the Omicron variant?

A. Getting vaccinated with the two doses and following safety protocol are the ways that can help us fight covid-19 and the variants. The more the virus multiples, the higher are the chances for the emergence of variants.

Q. Is Omicron more contagious than the other virus strains?

A. The mutations in the spike region are a concern when it comes to the omicron variant. But we are yet to find it out if this can be more transmissible than the Omicron variant.

Q. Are children more likely to contract the Omicron variant?

A. So far we do not have data that children are more susceptible/more likely to contract the infection by this variant.

Q. Will Omicron return us to the pandemic peak?

A. It might take a few weeks before we can say if the omicron variant can cause another pandemic. Our vaccines seemed to protect us from other variants in the past. So let’s hope the current vaccines work against the new variant.

Q. What is the Omicron variant situation in India?

A. India has recorded 23 cases of Omicron variant on the second week of December. The first two covid cases with Omicron variant were detected in Karnataka on 2nd Dec

Q. Where did the Omicron variant come from?

A. Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa on Nov 9, 2021. It has spread to other countries like Hongkong.

Q. How is Omicron different from the Delta variant?

A. Delta variant is the predominant strain in the world now. The Omicron variant has more mutations when compared to the delta variant and it carries mutations that were found in Alpha, beta, and gamma variants which are concerning.

Covid-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and death even with the variants. Since there are many mutations in Omicron, which are concerning, the immunity may be evaded partially but we need more studies on the same. There are many unanswered questions that need to be proven. So far we have one evidence-based answer that is Vaccine can help us get over the Pandemic and also the emergence of the variants. It’s important to get vaccinated with two doses and also follow Safety protocols like Hand hygiene and wearing a Face mask.

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • Written by

    Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri

Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri, MBBS with 5+ yrs of experience working as a Primary care Physician on Mfine. She initially worked with corporate hospitals and then as a resident in JIPMER for 2 years. She believes in a holistic approach to health care. She is also a public speaker, a blog writer and holds an interest in spreading awareness on health through digital media.

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