DR SANJAY TEOTIA explains the Omicron variant to our readers and advises how we can stay safe
The World Health Organization recently classified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 first detected by South African researchers and have labelled it as a variant of concern. It also named it Omicron. Early indications are that this variant is possibly even more transmissible than the highly infectious Delta variant and that current vaccines may be less effective against it.
Omicron has fifty mutations, twice as many as Delta. With all those mutations, Omicron, it is believed, will likely spread faster than any other previous variant of the Corona virus. The worry is that it also has a cluster of mutations associated with entry into cells. More efficient entry often translates into more virus production and increased transmissibility.
The question now on everyone’s lips is whether Omicron is deadlier than the other variants of Corona? Again, it may be too early to answer this with certainty. Patients infected with this strain show extreme tiredness. Omicron is not limited to any age group. Young patients also show extreme tiredness. There is no major drop in oxygen saturation levels and patients infected with the Omicron strain have not apparently reported loss of taste or smell.
Patients of the Omicron variant have, however, complained of a scratchy throat, body ache and a bit of headache. Symptoms are an unusual mix and mostly mild. The variant’s many mutations may allow it to resist neutralising the antibodies developed following an infection or vaccination. However, the Omicron variant does not escape RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen testing and the current SARS-CoV-2PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.
As such, countries have been asked to do the following: enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand this new SARS-CoV-2 variant. Testing of samples of international travellers coming from “at risk” countries on the first day and of specified category of passengers on the eighth day needs to be scrupulously done.
A very large number of Indians are likely to remain protected from Omicron or any other new variant of Covid-19 and there is no need to panic. As of today, the government has announced that two international passengers have recently been detected with this variant in Karnataka. We should just assume that it has arrived in India in other places as well and focus on rapidly identifying and sequencing clusters as well as monitoring such patients who report these symptoms.
It should also be always kept in mind that Covid is still very much present in the world and is far from eradicated. Let us remain safe, follow Covid protocols and hope that Omicron can be prevented by vaccinations and a strong immune system of the body. Research is ongoing on this new strain and as yet, there is no proof that our present vaccines will fully prevent us from a serious disease caused by Omicron. However, international findings have shown that till date, there is no report of death caused by Omicron. Neither is it exactly known that it is more infectious and virulent or can cause serious illness.
We, in India, however need to watch out. So far, we have not begun vaccinations for those below the age of eighteen years, but our scientists are working on vaccinations for children below eighteen years so that children in school-going age groups are protected.
Because of Omicron, will we have to close our teaching institutions to resume online classes? It is still too early to tell, but let us not panic. We must also remember that online classes, while doing a great job have kept children at home, and somewhere, in these 500 days of missing school, our children’s physical and mental health has been affected.
Will we have to get used to living alongside this virus? This fact, only time will tell. However, till then, there is no need to panic as our current vaccines have so far been proven to be more or less effective.
Other than ensuring that you take your vaccinations, follow standard Covid protocol to safeguard yourself from this disease. Ensure that you make proper use of your mask, maintain social distancing and continue with your hand washing and sanitising routine. Before sending your child to school, make sure that your child is aware of Covid-appropriate norms and that the school authorities are maintaining standard Covid protocol. Let us close our schools and begin online classes only when it is certain that an Omicron pandemic will strike and the Government may once again declare a complete lockdown.
Dr Sanjay Teotia is a senior consultant eye surgeon and Chief Medical Superintendent of District Hospital, Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. He is a prolific spiritual writer and his articles appear regularly in Navbharat Times and in Times of India, apart from YoursPositively