Omicron variant outbreak, symptoms and how to stay safe

Omicron Variant Outbreak, Causes, Symptoms and Prevention 

What Is Omicron

Omicron is not a software name but a variant of the famous but deadly coronavirus. 

The Omicron variant has raised the eyebrows of many scientists owing to its numerous genetic mutations, a record of 50 mutations has been noted and 26 of which have been denoted uniquely for the Omicron virus. This is fearful because these numerous mutations can work in a synergistic manner making the virus more virulent. 

A few scientists believe many mutations can have neutralizing effect by canceling each other and making it more docile. It is believed that this mutation phenomenon can lead to more transmission and enhance its ability to overpower and overcome our immune system.

Penny Moore who works as a virologist at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases asserted the importance of a broader view of this Omicron. Moore and team and other expert researchers are not going the easy way as they did for the Beta variant which first came out in South Africa and they believed it only attacked the immune system by acting through E484K mutation. This variant had double other mutations that made the vaccines less effective against them.

Characteristics Of Omicron Variant

Omicron variant virus is special for having N501Y mutations which make the virus binding to human cells rock tight. This makes it more contagious but less transmissible and this is especially seen in its Alpha variant. Its Delta variant was found to be more transmissible than alpha. Some factors largely determine how contagious any variant of Coronavirus will be, these include; how tight they bind to human cell receptors, how stable they are, the site of the airways that replication of the viral variant takes place and the amount of it exhaled.

Omicron mutations are tightly linked to human cells but Dr bloom believes that when they work together they might have different effects and cannot correctly predict how this Omicron virus interacts with the human body. Laboratory studies to fully understand these variants are still in the process and the process to make Omicron Vaccine is still underway.

Brief History of Omicron

Scientists all over the world are still trying to unravel the mystery of how Omicron a coronavirus variant came to be. So far it has been reported in South Africa, France, and Japan. The world is scared already of another impending lockdown and its economic impacts. This Omicron variant was first seen in South Africa.

Computational virologist, Trevor Bredford and also a professor at Seatle’s Fred Hutchinson Research Centre for Cancer is part of the scientists working towards unraveling the virus. He and Richard Lessells has contributed so much towards broader knowledge of Omicron. Lessells, an Infectious Disease expert in Durban South Africa that works at the University of KwaZulu Natal alongside his team first identified this Omicron variant in south Africa and blew the whistle to the world. They believe the genetic code which contains the viral genome has clues regarding its origin, risks, and transmission. They attributed them to the SARS COV 2 family tree of viruses. They also said the genome of this virus can tell us where the imported cases came from.

 They believe this Omicron variant came with a big surprise dating its strains to the mid-2020. Different hypotheses emerged; some believed animal sources in Mid 2020 became infected and over time humans acquired them and this gave rise to what we have today. They also believed the viral strain has evolved in humans already by having an insertion of human RNA rather than the animal's gene material.

Another of Bedford's hypotheses believed it emanated from a cryptic spread in a place with less monitoring. His explanation for this says part of the mid-2020 strain massively circulated somewhere in South Africa where he regarded it as a less monitored area which helped the evolution of the virus unchecked.

 He believes the virus got so lucky by acquiring so many mutations unnoticed with increased transmission and a final explosion that became evident in 2021. He and Lessels believe earlier versions of these variants must have been picked up in countries with very high surveillance. Omicron had a signature on PCR done by routine labs and raised their suspicion till they referred to Lessels and the team who studied and through sequencing identified Omicron.

The third hypothesis believed its incubation took place in a person with the immuno-compromised condition. Bedford believed the depressed immune system was strong enough to prevent death but weak towards clearing the virus. 

The virus survived and has better adaptation for attacking the individual’s immune cells. Lessells particularly studied samples from an HIV-infected woman who had coronavirus and over time discovered that she had variants that resembled Omicron so he believed the virus evolved over time and just recently started spreading from person to person. 

They believe the world will face more deadly variants if these viruses continue to mutate in persons living with immunosuppressive states like HIV especially in countries like South Africa where many infected persons are not on medication. Therefore a way to prevent variant strains of Coronavirus like Omicron is to encourage people to enroll and take Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy for HIV. So rather than stigmatize we should all join hands to encourage them and help curb the menace of coronavirus pandemic.

How Omicron Virus Variant Is Transmitted

The world health organization at this time is still studying the transmission of Omicron and how it affects the human race. Being a variant of coronavirus it is believed to have similar modes of transmission no wonder countries are beginning to impose travel restrictions on countries with large disease burdens like South Africa as a way to mitigate the spread of the disease.

 Omicron is currently believed to spread from person to person through droplets or aerosols just like in Coronavirus or from Animals to humans. Where it passes from humans to humans high chances are that it evolved in an immuno-compromised person and passed down to others in the community. While the world is studying Omicron and how to better curb it other safe health practices like hand washing, face masks in public, vaccination is still very useful in surviving this menace.

How Omicron virus variant is Similar to COVID 19

Omicron which is rapidly spreading in countries has mutations similar to other variants of COVID 19 like the Delta, alpha, beta, and gamma variants and is believed to be transmissible and may toy with people’s antibodies and render the COVID 19 vaccines inactive. 

Scientists still believe the COVID 19 vaccines are still able to handle omicron and it will prevent Omicron’s ability to cause re-infection in persons who previously suffered COVID 19. Currently, more studies are on to better understand omicron, the efficacy of vaccines to control it, and how monoclonal antibodies can be used in treatment.

Symptoms Of Omicron Variant

The Omicron variant in the USA was first reported in a fully vaccinated person in California. He was said to have had mild symptoms similar to the one seen in the Omicron case in Minnesota. Omicron cases so far had mild cases of COVID 19 and sufferers fell into the younger age group.

Risk Factors For Omicron

Limited information available suggests having a previous COVID 19 infection can increase your risk of being re-infected with Omicron. Also, immunosuppression plays a role. Just like other COVID 19 variants, the same risk factors apply to Omicron. 

 Studies of Coronavirus in pregnant women show they are more likely to develop complications during pregnancy and birth compared to the population without the infection, particularly the Delta variant has been seen to cause severe complications to the pregnant woman and their fetuses.

 Currently, no studies have been able to categorical say Omicron or any other variant does not affect pregnancy. Despite the evolving knowledge on Omicron, the earlier safety measures are still helpful in curbing Omicron in a pregnant woman. The COVID 19 vaccines are still useful in preventing the disease.

Signs of Omicron

The clinical signs so far are that of mild disease and a large number of those hospitalized in South Africa are as a result of isolation of the variant and not for bizarre complications. That is not to say Omicron is a milder variant. Until the world can unravel the truth take measures to protect yourself.

Investigations For Omicron

Testing for COVID 19 won’t isolate the variant, the CDC employs genomic sequencing to identify Omicron and other variants. These Omicron variants were first identified on PCR and then forwarded to qualified labs for genomic sequencing.

Treatment Of Omicron

 IL6 Receptor Blockers and Corticosteroids are still useful in managing severe cases of coronavirus and scientists are studying their efficacies in the management of Omicron.

Global action against Omicron Variant

With reported cases of Omicron in the UK, Omicron in the USA, Omicron in South Africa, Omicron in Japan, Omicron in France, and the fast way of spreading across country boundaries. 

Adequate measures should be in place to prevent what might end up a catastrophe. We must jointly put an end to this ravaging pandemic. Especially hand hygiene, barrier protection, and vaccination are very helpful. Also, those infected with HIV should do well to comply with their medications. 

Africans should intensify measures to protect themselves against these viruses like the rest of the world. So far there is no reported case of omicron in Nigeria. This doesn't mean Nigerians should not pay attention to how omicron can be prevented. 


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