The highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus has now taken over as the dominant COVID-19 strain the world over.
From what researchers have gathered, the variant has an unusually high number of mutations that make it significantly more contagious and capable of eluding the body’s first line of immune defenses. The World Health Organization (WHO) declares it as a Variant of Concern.
While infections are spreading at an alarming rate, there seems to be a word that the illness is less severe as compared to previous variants. There’s also speculation that with lower rates of hospitalization, this variant can evolve into a weaker form.
With the pandemic, if there’s one lesson to pick up from the past is that it’s unpredictable. Before you jump to conclusions, it’s best to be clear of what to expect and how to stay safe. And these FAQs will answer everything you need to know to help you stay safe or what to do at a time of need.
1. What is the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and how is it different?
Ans: In comparison to other variants discovered by researchers, the Omicron one has more mutations. Many of the mutations are in the spike protein, which is what attaches to the cells and relates to how the virus spreads. Hence, boosters and vaccines are under development that focus on targeting and developing an immune response to the spike proteins.
2. Why is Omicron declared as a 'variant of concern' (VoC)?
Ans: As per WHO, Omicron is a VoC for a few reasons, as follows:
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology
- Decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics
Simply put, it’s a variant to be concerned about because of its mutations, the increase in transmission, risk of re-infection, and immune evasion. However, there are still studies going on about the increase in remission and immune evasion.
3. Delta vs omicron: What’s the origin of the variant?
Ans: The Delta was first identified in India in December 2020, before it spread to other countries like the United Kingdom then the USA. At the time of 2020 mid-December, this predominant SARS CoV-2 variant was accounting for over 99% of COVID-19 cases. Today, omicron is the predominant variant. It was first seen around November 2021 in Botswana, later in South Africa, and now spreading throughout the world.
4. Delta Vs Omicron: What’s the difference In mutations?
Ans: Gene sequencing shows that the Omicron variant has more mutations compared to the Delta variant. Researches found that the Delta variant has 18 aa mutations in the spike protein while Omicron has over 30. As per studies, these high mutations don’t necessarily signify danger, but simply display how the virus has adapted to the human species by generating another variant.
5. Should you be concerned about Omicron?
Ans: So far, there are no findings that suggest that Omicron is any more severe than the other variants. What we know is that this spreads faster.
A report by Bloomberg narrated that a combination of numerous mutations and widespread immunity has resulted in a variant that’s less severe than previous iterations. Another crucial factor that makes this strain less virulent is that it doesn’t affect the lungs as easily as past variants.
Researchers are continually conducting studies, and soon we’ll know more. Until then, given how infectious Omicron is, it’s important for you to take all available precautions, including vaccination, boosters, and other common protocols like social distance, masking, sanitizing, etc.
6. How transmissible is the Omicron variant?
Ans: From what’s seen to date, Omicron spreads more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s best to keep yourself safe as anyone infected with Omicron can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.
According to WHO, currently, the virus is predominantly seen in adults in their 20s and 30s, especially in large cities and clusters associated with the workplace or social gatherings.
7. Can the Omicron variant reinfect an already infected person from Covid-19?
Ans: Preliminary evidence by health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO) show the possibilities of reinfection with the Omicron variant are high. From what’s seen so far, Omicron evades previous immunity and reinfects individuals who’ve had COVID-19 formerly. Researchers are studying the how’s, why’s and other questions, and more information will be available soon.
8. Why does Omicron reinfect people?
Ans: With nearly 50 mutations, this variant has more mutation combinations than seen previously and over 30 mutations on the spike protein the virus uses to attach to human cells. Typically, the vaccines for COVID19 target that spike protein, and this cluster of mutations are potentially problematic.
One report by WHO on the early signs stated that previously infected people would not build enough antibodies to ward off infection from Omicron. Of course, with each passing day, they’re studying more and we’ll learn more.
9. How eﬀective is the vaccine against the Omicron Variant?
Ans: Although research is ongoing, studies show that the best protection against severe disease and death comes from vaccines. However, some mutations report the spike gene may decrease the efficacy of existing vaccines. This is the primary reason behind countries rolling out COVID-19 booster programs. The positive of vaccines protection is relatively better preservation of cellular immunity and antibodies. The more antibodies a person has, the more protected they are.
The good news is with ongoing research, if researchers find that the current vaccine does not provide optimal protection, they can modify vaccines to address specific Omicron threats.
10. Are the current tests effective in detecting the Omicron infection?
Ans: The RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests are one of the most steadfast ways to detect a potential COVID-19 infection. Other than this, there’s the rapid antigen test (Rat) that you can conduct at home that provides much quicker results within 5 to 30 minutes. Both tests detect if you’re infected with COVID-19, regardless of what variant causes it. However, with both, it’s difficult to indicate if it’s Omicron or not as compared to other variants. Tests are the best indication of whether an individual is infected with Covid-19, irrespective of the variant. Thus, they continue to remain important.
11. Regardless of vaccination, how worried should you be?
Ans: Breakthrough cases of Omicron can occur, but vaccination remains critically important. Several patients who recently tested positive with Omicron were fully vaccinated. As stated earlier, vaccinations can prove to be ineffective against the Omicron variant. However, several reports by the CDC and WHO state that vaccines are still critical in controlling the severity of the disease.
That being said, it’s best you follow COVID-19 safety protocols to stay safe and infection-free. This article will give you more insight into how you can prevent COVID-19.
12. Delta Vs Omicron: Vaccine effectiveness
Ans: A recent study by Lancet exhibited the effectiveness of the Covishield vaccine in fighting the deadly Delta variant, primarily during the surge. All over the world, the vaccine has proven to help counter prior variants, like Delta. With Omicron, things are relatively new and studies are ongoing. There is speculation that Omicron will perhaps render vaccines less effective. It’s a waiting game now.
13. Does Omicron have any different symptoms compared to previous variants?
Ans: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all of the variants, including Delta and Omicron, cause similar symptoms. Here are the possible symptoms of this variant.
- Sore throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of taste or smell
- Body ache or muscle aches
Fully vaccinated and/or boosted people feel milder symptoms. Whereas, it can be quite severe for the unvaccinated, sometimes leading to hospitalization or death.
The given list of symptoms is not exhaustive. Symptoms may vary from person to person or even face a combination of symptoms.
Follow Precautions, Stay Safe
At times of uncertainty, especially when things are moving at such a fast pace, it’s best to ensure you follow safety precautions and protocols.
With the Loop Health app, you have access to a dedicated medical advisor and numerous specialists available for virtual consults. If you ever have concerns or queries about COVID-19, mental health, nutrition, women’s wellness, or more, you can reach out to them anytime, anywhere! The best part is the average response time is 47 seconds, so you don’t have to wait!
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