“It’s possibly the most mutated virus we’ve ever seen,” said virologist Alex Sigal, who heads the team of researchers that first identified the new variant.
The Omicron variant has more than 50 mutations – including more than 30 in the spike protein – improving the ability of the virus to infect the body.
“He’s more of a Frankenstein than others,” Sigal said. “It’s always something new. I mean, the virus continues to surprise us. “
Within 36 hours of the discovery of the new variant, these scientists alerted the world. Some countries,the United States, are now from several southern African countries in an attempt to prevent the spread.
Sigal’s team is working with other scientists to find out if the variant is more transmissible or eludes immunity. The lab has received several requests for samples from Omicron, which are packaged and shipped to other research institutes across the country.
Scientists will know in about 10 days if existing vaccines can stop Omicron, but Sigal is confident that current vaccines will still offer protection against serious illness and hospitalization.
But Sigal warned that as long as Africa lags on vaccinations, the virus will continue to mutate. Omicron has mainly infected young people in Africa, and South African doctors say those infected mostly have mild symptoms.