Concern Variants: Here’s the “danger” of Ómicron if not properly controlled

Variant of concern (VdP) Ómicron is a “dangerous virus” despite its lower ability to cause a serious infection.

The alert came back from the director general of World Health Organization (WHO), underlining the impact of this VdP on more fragile health systems such as countries with lower immunization rates.

The WHO official confirms the good performance of vaccines against all variants of SARS-CoV-2, but recalls the greater ease of propagation of Ómicron, which, although not very dangerous for those vaccinated, can still kill the most fragile and infected. the unvaccinated.

In the seven-day period that ended on Sunday (January 9) alone, the WHO noted a 55% increase, equivalent to 15 million cases, the worst number of infections in a single week.

The majority of people hospitalized around the world with Covid-19 are not vaccinated, says the director-general of the WHO, and if the circulation of this VdP is not stopped, there is a risk that this strain will evolve into another, with greater resistance to vaccines. , greater capacity for infection and greater risk of causing severe Covid-19.

Since it was identified in South Africa, at the end of November, the most recent VdP has spread rapidly, already affecting at least 150 countries, being the dominant one in several, including Portugal.

The United Kingdom is the country most affected by Ómicron, with more than 245,000 cases detected and 75 deaths recorded.

“Ómicron represents a new transversal wave, sweeping the European region after the Delta outbreak faced by all countries until the end of 2021. More than 50% of the European population will be infected by Ómicron in the next six or eight weeks”, predicted Hans. Kluge, from the European arm of the WHO.

Most of those admitted to intensive care in European Union countries are unvaccinated people, which also proves that vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) remain effective against Ómicron in preventing serious illness and death.

[Quais são os principais sintomas da Ómicron?]

It was also noted that the infection period, given the lower severity, was reduced to between five and seven days, which has already led many countries to review the quarantine periods for “covid patients”, including Portugal.

Despite being very frequently driving new daily records for infections, Ómicron is not having any reflexes in a worsening of hospitalizations, the most relevant criterion now to assess the level of threat of the pandemic.

With many of those infected with this new variant turning out to be asymptomatic, these are the main symptoms generated by Ómicron and which must be taken into account:

A small proportion of patients diagnosed with Ómicron in South Africa had a high fever, recurrent cough and loss of taste or smell. The most severe symptoms are seen mainly in unvaccinated people against Covid-19.

Discovery

The variant named B.1.1.529 was discovered by the Portuguese researcher Raquel Viana on November 19, from a sample taken ten days earlier and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24, one month away from Christmas.

It was designated, two days later, as “Worry Variant” (VdP) mainly due to the rapid propagation observed and the dozens of mutations found. Integrating this list was renamed as omicron.

the group of Technical Consultancy for the Evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus (TAG-VE, in the English acronym), bringing together a network of WHO reference laboratories to study Covid-19, has been intensively researching the new variant, having found a series of mutations, including in the S protein or “spike” (spicule), responsible for the infection of cells.

The WHO calls on the different countries to share the data of their hospitalized “covid patients” to accelerate the knowledge of Ómicron and recommends to citizens the elementary measures to contain the infection:

  • social distancing of at least one meter;

  • use of approved masks;

  • regular ventilation of closed spaces;

  • avoid overcrowded spaces;

  • wash your hands regularly;

  • coughing or sneezing while protecting yourself with your elbow or a tissue;

  • get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Preliminary data suggest a higher risk of reinfection compared to previous VdPs, but there is still no clear conclusion on this threat. Vaccines continue to be considered effective and PCR tests detect Ómicron.

It’s not clear that the new variant causes more serious illness than previous ones, including Delta. Preliminary data only show an increase in hospitalizations, particularly in South Africa.

A new variant under study

In the meantime, what is believed to be a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in Cyprus that combines the last two VdPs, Delta and Ómicron.

Informally, this supposed new strain was named “Deltacron”, and it is being analyzed, and it is expected that in the course of the next week the first data on this alleged variant will be revealed.

“We will assess whether this strain is more pathological or contagious and whether it has the strength to prevail [perante as variantes anteriores]”, explained Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, in an interview with Sigma TV.

The so-called “Deltacron” was detected in at least 25 active cases in Cyprus, showing “the genetic signature of Ómicron with the genomes of Delta. “Currently there are dual infections with Ómicron and Delta. We found a combination of the two,” said Kostrikis.

Preliminary analyzes showed that the relative frequency of the combined infection is higher among hospitalized patients with Covid-19 than among non-hospitalized Covid patients. The data collected has already been shared with the GISAID system, the international database that tracks the evolution of the virus and the study will continue.

At the moment, this is a variant that still does not concern the WHO.

Two years of SARS-CoV-2

For about two years we have been living around the world with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of Covid-19. During this time, this last family member coronavirus it has infected more than 306 million people and claimed an estimated 5.5 million lives across the planet, driven by at least five VdPs.

In each infected organism, replicas are produced and propagated, which allows the virus to adapt and evolve compared to the original that caused the pandemic.

At least, as of September 2020, there are five variants of concern to WHO experts due to the potential to be more resistant or to cause a more severe form of Covid-19.

But what exactly are the variants of the Covid-19 virus?

Viruses, in general, begin by infecting a host and from there they replicate, that is, they produce copies of themselves.

Most viruses are made up of RNA, a genetic material, for example, more unstable than DNA. This characteristic makes it more likely to undergo changes over time, slightly modifying the respective genetic sequence.

Changes in the sequence are known as gene mutations. Viruses with mutations are called strains or variants.

Some of the mutations may not change the properties of the virus, others may even be harmful to the viruses themselves, but some may end up allowing a “selective advantage” and even making the virus more “friendly” to the host and making it benign.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, the WHO has classified as “Variants of Concern” (VdP) those that have the potential to cause serious infections or to spread more easily. These strains or variants are kept under close surveillance.

Learn about the current “Variants of Concern” for SARs-CoV-2:

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