Omicron Variant: Risks And Safety Precautions

The SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill when it first spread across the globe at the beginning of 2020. Amidst lockdowns and strict travel restrictions, the virus kept on mutating as it spread among more people. When finally it seemed like the worst is behind us (thanks to an extensive vaccination scheme), we got the news that there’s a new strain doing the rounds! Omicron strain is the latest mutation identified by scientists in South Africa. 


Read on to know more about the new strain of COVID-19 and how you can protect yourself from it. 

Omicron Variant

All about the Omicron strain 

Scientists in South Africa have reported the development of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus which is called the B.1.1.529. The World Health Organisation (WHO) named it Omicron, following the tradition of using Greek nomenclature to denote the strains of the virus. The strain before the Omicron was called the Delta variant and the new one (Omicron) has been named while skipping the two letters in the Greek alphabet ‘Nu’ and ‘Xi’. 

The health implications of the Omicron strain are still being tested by scientists around the world, however, the number of positive COVID-19 tests in South Africa indicate that this new strain is potentially fast-spreading because the Omicron strain has a high number of mutations in the ‘spike protein’ associated with COVID-19. 

It is important to maintain safety protocols as the virus is already seeing a spread in other nations like Israel, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Botswana, and Hong Kong. The WHO considers this as a Variant of Concern (VOC) for now, and many countries gearing up to issue travel bans as a response to stop its spread. 

How does Omicron affect us?

By now, you might be feeling quite gloomy at the thought of another variant possibly arriving on the shore of India. You might also be wondering how this new strain affects you and the health implications it has. There are a lot of assumptions like-getting affected by the Omicron strain is more likely for people who have already been affected by COVID-19 before. Currently, only mild infections have been noticed among individuals affected by this strain. 

Whether the Omicron strain can trigger severe symptoms and effects will be confirmed only after further testing. There are concerns about the omicron strain having the ability to evade the immune system and cause breakthrough vaccine infections (infection after getting vaccinated). For now, reinfection of individuals remains the biggest risk posed by this virus (till further studies suggest otherwise). 

How is Omicron different from the Delta variant? 

The delta variant of COVID-19 was discovered first in India and was responsible for the 2nd wave of the pandemic in the country. According to current studies, the omicron variant is considered to be 6 times more transmissible than the delta variant, which can be a cause for concern.

The delta variant of the virus is responsible for heavy infections and mortality. In comparison, the omicron strain has been noticed to cause milder infections. The delta variant of the virus is a lethal variant and current studies do not put the omicron variant as such a deadly one. The reinfection rate and the transmissibility rate is much higher in the omicron variant than the delta variant, some experts opine. But, more studies and data are needed for better understanding of this variant.

Symptoms of the Omicron variant

There have been no unusual symptoms noticed in people affected by the omicron variant of COVID-19. Thus, current studies suggest that symptoms of the omicron variant are the same as what was being noticed in the earlier strains of the virus. Some of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include – fever, weakness, loss of smell, shortness of breath, chest pain and loss of taste, sore throat, cough, stomach ache, diarrhoea.

Which tests can detect the Omicron strain?

The SARS-CoV-2 RT- PCR diagnostic test can detect the new strain of the virus. Studies are going on to understand the effectiveness of other tests in the detection of Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

What can you do to stay safe amidst the spread of the Omicron strain? 

Scientists suggest that the virus is more transmissible, however, less deadly than the delta variant. The best way to stay safe currently is by following all WHO and Government-mandated safety protocols –

  1. Get vaccinated if you haven’t 
  2. Maintain physicall distancing, 
  3. limit your travel outside as much as possible and avoid crowding at all costs.
  4. Wear a mask when stepping out or meeting any outsider
  5. Follow hand hygiene and respiratory ettiquttes
  6. Do not ignore any signs of illness (fever, weakness, sore throat)

Surveillance for the new strain has been increased in all countries including India to monitor the spread of the new variant. Many nations have started imposing travel restrictions and it is advisable that you do not travel to nations where the omicron strain is spreading rapidly. Cancel travel plans abroad as safety is of vital importance. Read about some travel guidelines if you or your dear ones are planning to travel and make sure it is followed well to avoid any trouble while traveling.

Conclusion 

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly but on a positive note, scientists are deeming the virus to be less deadly than the delta variant. People who have been affected by COVID-19 or those with other comorbidities need to stay extra cautious as the rate of reinfection is high in this new variant. If you follow all safety protocols and maintain hygiene, you can stay protected from the new variant. Be responsible to limit the spread of the virus and encourage the maintenance of safety protocols among your peers.

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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