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COVID-19: Omicron variant explained | Digit

COVID-19 pulled another card out of its sleeve and presented us with Omicron. SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529, popularly known as Omicron. In this article, we look at how the coronavirus took the form of the Omicron variant

After 2020, everyone took a much-needed breather, but what 2021 brought along in the form of the second wave of coronavirus infections globally, made everyone run straight back into their homes, while sending the medical system into chaos. When everyone thought that the second wave was over, the virus pulled another card out of its sleeve and presented us with its mutated forms, of which the Omicron variant is the newest.

After being a central figure in many conversations, and infecting people worldwide, the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529, popularly known as Omicron, has been labelled a variant of concern. This has raised many eyebrows because the already active variants of the virus have been wreaking havoc, and no one knows what this has in store for us. For the most part.

Before we delve into the details, here’s a brief about how the coronavirus took the form of the Omicron variant. According to the UNICEF webpage dedicated to this variant of the virus, “When a virus is circulating widely and causing numerous infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.” This, for sure, indicates that the easing of the curbs across the globe is not an indication that our fight against the virus is over. We are very sad to say this, but it is still on.

As the world governments and administrative bodies prepare, in the wake of the increasing cases being triggered by the Omicron variant, it is important that you also stay informed. So, here we have brought for you a brief guide that will help you know the latest iteration of the coronavirus better so that you can give better information to the ones in contact with you, making them and yourself better prepared to fight the looming third wave, which we pray never comes.

What do we know?

When the first cases of this new variant were reported, no one knew what this exactly was. But since then, efforts of virologists and related researchers worldwide, day in and day out, have brought in some helpful information. One of the firsts in this very brief list is that the variant itself has a lot of variations. This means that this variant of the virus can take different forms and cause infections of varying nature, making it harder to identify and track. Reportedly, this variant hasn’t evolved from any other variant of note but has branched out distinctly, with its evolution starting around the second half of 2020. 

The second that we know about the nature of the Omicron variant is that it is less harmful or, to say, severe in terms of causing infections when compared to the Delta variant. This does not mean, though, that we can take it lightly. At the end of the day, be it the Delta or the Omicron variant, once in a person’s body can wreak havoc and cause severe health consequences.

From the numbers that are coming in each day from medical institutions and other statistical bodies across the world, it is evident that this variant has a much higher transmission rate than any other that we know of. It is to be noted that this is just a prediction of sorts. Despite the numbers on paper at the moment suggesting that this variant is transmitting rapidly, we would have to wait to know exactly what the situation is. For now, all we can do is continue practising the regular COVID appropriate behaviour, as directed by the medical institutions and experts.

When it comes to the symptoms, the matter is as ambiguous as the previous aspects. There is no evidence suggesting that the variant has a different set of infection symptoms compared to the previous iterations. There’s some bad news for the previously infected individuals. The reports that have come in at this early stage suggest that the people who had been previously infected by the coronavirus, despite having recovered from the infection, are at a higher risk of being infected again. This time, by this moderately known variant called Omicron. Other variants of concern that are already out there, such as the Delta variant, has been known not to show such behaviour. It hasn’t shown any sign of putting already infected people at a higher risk, but the Omicron indicates that trend.

The dos and don’ts 

With the situation of the outbreak, especially concerning the Omicron variant evolving every passing second, as research and infections continue, the best thing to do is prevent yourself from getting infected, because as they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of the infection, instead of waiting for them to reach a stage where they are severely affecting your health, get yourself tested. The RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests have so far been successful in detecting Omicron infections, so that’s some good news. At least early diagnosis, followed by proper health care, will ensure that people are not that severely affected by the disease. It will also be better for the authorities to single patients out, making sure that proper precautions, isolation measures, and medications along with other aids are in order.

One of the most effective ways of protecting against getting infected and limiting the damage in case of infection has been to get vaccinated. And, as far as initial research goes, the results are not that great to be looked at, but one thing is for sure that the damage inflicted on a person’s body, potentially leading to death, can be limited by getting vaccinated. The vaccines that are available worldwide are effective enough to prevent severe infections against other variants too. So, if not Omicron, a vaccinated individual would be safe from infections that originate from other variants, at the least.

In terms of the medication, the more severely affected patients can be treated using Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers. But, at the milder levels of infection, research is on to determine whether the current medicines will be effective against the virus or not.

What are the authorities doing?

Given the currency of this new variant’s surfacing and outbreak and the complexity of the process of conducting any meaningful research, the world authorities have scrambled teams of brilliant minds to study this variant. The World Health Organisation, which has been effectively leading the way in our fight against the virus, has coordinated with researchers across the world to hasten the research process. But everything, especially in the field of science, dealing with such a sensitive issue, takes its due time, and so will this.

While we await further information on the virus, we recommend you get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Ensure that you properly wear good quality masks, ensure hand and overall personal hygiene, stay at least 1 metre away from others, and practice other related appropriate behaviour to keep yourself and others around you safe. Also, do keep an eye on these two portals to keep yourself updated with the latest developments related to the Omicron variant: 

https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron

https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/what-we-know-about-omicron-variant#omicron  

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