New variant of Omicron coronavirus raises red flags among scientists – but there are more mysteries than answers about its public threat – .

New variant of Omicron coronavirus raises red flags among scientists – but there are more mysteries than answers about its public threat – .

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    La variante du coronavirus montre des signes d'être plus transmissible ou dangereux que d'autres souches, mais les scientifiques ne comprennent pas encore la menace d'Omicron.
    <ul class="summary-list"><li>L'OMS a étiqueté vendredi une nouvelle variante du coronavirus, Omicron, une "variante préoccupante".</li>
  • The B.1.1.529 variant contains characteristics of being more transmissible or dangerous than other strains.
  • But scientists have just started examining Omicron’s threat, including its unknown mutations.
  • A variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa has now spread to several other countries, including Israel and Belgium, causing a series of travel restrictions across Europe, Asia and South America. North.

    The new variant, called Omicron, carries a worrying number of mutations that could make it more transmissible or possibly more likely to cause serious disease than the Delta variant, public health experts warn.

    The World Health Organization on Friday called Omicron a “variant of concern” – a designation given to variants like Delta that require careful consideration by public health officials. Preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron may increase the risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern, the WHO said.

    But scientists have barely begun to examine Omicron’s threat: less than 100 of the variant’s genome sequences have been reported worldwide, compared to over 2.8 million sequences for Delta.

    “We don’t know much about this variant yet,” Maria van Kerkhov, WHO technical officer on COVID-19, said in a briefing Thursday. “What we do know is that this variant has a lot of mutations, and the concern is that when you have that many mutations it can impact the behavior of the virus. “

    Researchers are sequencing coronavirus samples at the microbiology laboratory at Badajoz University Hospital in Spain on April 15, 2021.Javier Pulpo/Europa Press/Getty Images

    She added that “it will take a few weeks for us to understand the impact of this variant”.

    Many scientists are hoping for answers much sooner than that, Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health, told Insider. The variant could go unnoticed in parts of the globe, she said.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in the United States already,” Jetelina said. “We have already seen that this has been transmitted in communities like Turkey, Egypt, Belgium, Israel. “

    Omicron contains several new, unknown mutations

    South African researchers identified the first case of Omicron on November 9, then reported the variant to the WHO on Wednesday. Scientists hope they spotted the variant early, as the majority of known cases are still concentrated in southern Africa.

    “South Africa has one of the best genomic surveillance systems in the world, so we know they’re really constantly testing this virus,” Jetelina said. “The fact that they have ‘only’ detected 100 cases in South Africa so far really gives us hope that this is the start of the spread. “

    Still, a number of markers suggest that Omicron is highly transmissible compared to other strains of coronavirus. On the one hand, South Africa’s coronavirus cases have risen sharply in recent weeks: average daily cases have increased 13-fold since the variant was first discovered on November 9, from around 275 to 3,700 cases per day.

    Doctors Without Borders nurse Bhelekazi Mdlalose performs a COVID-19 test on a health worker at the Vlakfontein clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa on May 13, 2020.Michèle Spatari / AFP / Getty Images

    Omicron also contains several disturbing mutations found in other disturbing variants – including Delta and Alpha – that could help it spread, make vaccines less effective, or potentially lead to more serious illness.

    The new variant also carries unknown mutations.

    “There are a number of mutations that we have no information about,” Jetelina said. “They’ve never seen them on the previous variants of Concern. So, I think one of the first questions is: what is it? Do we need to be concerned about it or not? “

    So far, scientists have identified 32 mutations in the variant spike protein – the sharp, crown-shaped bumps on the surface of the virus that help it invade our cells. Other worrisome variants had fewer peak mutations.

    “The spike protein is basically the key in our cells to infect us, so once that protein changes for better or worse, then we really need to pay attention to it,” Jetelina said. “This is probably what is creating this increase in cases that we are seeing in South Africa right now. “

    Public health experts say there is no need to panic just yet

    A higher number of mutations doesn’t necessarily make a variant more deadly or more transmissible – nor does it on its own suggest that Omicron will pose a greater challenge to vaccines than other variants of concern.

    “We don’t yet know if this new variant outperforms Delta,” said Jetelina. “We also still don’t know if this will still elude our vaccines. “

    Mike Ryan, WHO Director of Health Emergencies, during a press briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

    Scientists are still awaiting laboratory studies to determine how resistant anti-coronavirus antibodies -om natural infection or vaccines – to Omicron are. They are also closely monitoring the speed at which the variant spreads across the world, especially in countries with the highest vaccination rates. (South Africa has only fully vaccinated 24% of its population so far, compared to 59% in the United States)

    “We have to really hold on to see how this goes and what our next move is,” said Jetelina.

    Modern, BioNTech-Pfizer et Johnson & Johnson all said on Friday that they were testing their vaccines for protection against Omicron.

    People who have been fully vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public places should not feel pressured to change their behavior just yet, Jetelina added.

    Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergency program, shared a similar message on Thursday.

    “Viruses evolve and we take variations. This is not the end of the world. The sky is not collapsing, ”he said. “There’s this idea that we’re just waiting for the next variation and I don’t want people to spend their lives worrying about it every day. ”

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