Not much is known about this strain, but what is certain is that Omicron has 32 mutations in the spike protein. Among them are mutations that help the virus overcome antibodies and others that increase the ability of the virus to enter cells. This makes Omicrons even more contagious and dangerous.
A medical worker checks his temperature in Botswana
Why are mutations worrying?
Normally, the spike proteins that cover the Covid-19 virus are responsible for helping the virus attach and enter human cells. The vaccine trains the body to recognize these spikes and neutralize them, thereby preventing infection.
However, 32 mutations in Omicron’s spike protein will change the shape of this structure, making it difficult for the immune response to be generated by the vaccine. These mutations may make the antibody less likely to recognize the spike protein.
Therefore, antibodies will not work effectively in neutralizing the virus, so that the virus can overcome the immune system and enter the body.
That is also the reason why on November 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) put the Omicron variant, symbol B.1.1529, on the worrying list.
Scientists say this is the variant with the most changes in the spike protein to date. It is suggested that the variant emerged from an immunocompromised person, and who had been carrying the virus for a long time. It could be someone with undiagnosed HIV/AIDS.
“Unusual but mild” symptoms
Dr Angelique Coetzee, President of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) and the first to warn of the new variant, said the symptoms of patients with Omicron were “unusual but mild” than those of those infected with other diseases. other variations.
According to Dr. Coetzee, common symptoms in people infected with the Omicron variant are muscle pain, fatigue for 1-2 days and maybe a mild cough. None of them had any symptoms of loss of smell or taste.
Ms. Coetzee noted that the number of people infected with the Omicron variant was not enough to overwhelm local hospitals.
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To date, all people infected with Omicron are young, under 40 years old, and people who have been vaccinated have not been infected.
“We’ve only known about this variant for two weeks,” she said. “It’s true that it’s contagious, but now as doctors we don’t understand why it’s so hyped up.”
Ms. Coetzee commented that it will take several more weeks to assess the effects of the new variant, especially in older and unvaccinated adults.
Scientists have mixed opinions on this issue. Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, warned that this variant could be a “real concern” due to the number of mutations in the spike protein.
Meanwhile, Professor Francois Balloux, director of the Institute of Genomics at University College London, said that “there is no reason to be unduly concerned, unless the frequency of occurrence starts to increase rapidly in the near future”.