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Omicron: How dangerous is the B.1.1.529 variant found in South Africa?

A woman in Johannesburg, South Africa, received a nasal swab from a healthcare professional

EMMANUELCROSET / AFP via Getty Images

A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, originally known as B.1.1.529 and now called omicron, has an unusually high number of mutations and has recently surged in South Africa. It seems.

When was omicron first identified?

That was the first Detected on November 23 In South Africa using samples taken between 14th and 16th November. South African Health Minister Joe Fara, Said on November 25th He believes this variant is behind the exponential daily increase in covid-19 cases nationwide recently. On the same day, the UK Medical Security Agency (HSA) Designated as a variant under investigationTriggers travel restrictions for people traveling from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the United Kingdom.The World Health Organization has listed B.1.1.529 as a monitored variant, but the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolution technical advisory group. Decided on November 26th Classify as a variant of concern. WHO named it omicron after the Greek alphabet.

What’s happening in South Africa?

Daily incidents nationwide 1000 two weeks after 274 on November 11th.. Although the growth rate is fast, the absolute number is still relatively low compared to the UK, I saw 50,000 cases November 26th. Over 80% of South African cases now occur in Gauteng, South Africa. All 77 cases sequenced in the state between November 12 and 20 were identified as being caused by the mutation. NS Estimated number of viewsThe average number of people that an individual can be infected with is about 1.5 nationwide, compared to almost 2 in Houten.

What does the B.1.1.529 mutation teach us?

Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge states that this variant has a “very rare mutation constellation.” Peplomers, which are part of the virus that interacts with human cells, have more than 30 mutations. According to HSA, other mutations can help the virus bypass the immune system, increase its infectivity, and make it less susceptible to treatment.However The body pays attention to that “This has not been proven.”

The implications of mutations are now theoretical and are based on past mutational experience with SARS-CoV-2 rather than laboratory trials. “We really don’t know,” says Wendy Berkeley of Imperial College London, whether it reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. Nevertheless, she adds, theoretically, the number of changes across the antigen site on the mutant spike means that the efficacy of the antibody produced by the covid-19 vaccine is compromised.

Some mutations in the virus, known as furin cleavage sites, are similar to those found in alpha and delta mutants and may help the mutant spread more easily. Berkeley states that B.1.1.529 is “biologically plausible” for its higher transfer coefficient than Delta.

Mutations also mean that new variants are more likely to be more resistant to antibody treatments such as those developed by Regeneron. Shown to save lives.. “That’s really a source of concern,” says Berkeley. One of the little bright spots is that to date, there are no signs that the mutant will cause a more serious illness.

How far has it spread?

Genome sequencing revealed mutations in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.In some cases reported In Israel, Obviously derived from travelers from Malawi, Belgium, From a person who traveled from Egypt. British Health Minister Sajid Javid said the variant was “very likely” to have spread to other countries. As of November 27 Two cases were detected in the United Kingdom, About one-fifth of positive cases are sent for genomic sequencing. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s Jeffrey Barrett said that even in countries with low levels of sequencing, mutants are associated with a mutation called the S gene dropout detected in PCR tests, which could lead to early warning signs. Says. Hinxton, UK.

How did the other places react?

Both the UK and the EU impose restrictions on people traveling from countries in southern Africa, and Javid states that this variant is “a major international concern.”Prime Minister Boris Johnson Announcing a further travel ban on November 27..

Is it natural that this surpasses the delta variant?

do not understand. “At this point, there is no clear evidence that this is more contagious, but there are hints that it may be contagious,” Peacock points out for South Africa’s growth and Houten’s higher R numbers. Some early variants were unable to gain a foothold in certain countries due to competition with other variants. For example, beta has not been established in the UK, but alpha has spread from Europe but has not reached high levels in South Africa. “If this variant isn’t as contagious as Delta, that’s certainly good news,” says Barrett.

what can I do?

All the usual measures such as social distance, hand washing, wearing a mask, vaccination and getting booster shots will continue to apply. However, the emergence of such potentially disturbing varieties reminds us of the risk of uneven vaccination rates worldwide – In South Africa, only 24% of people are fully vaccinated..

How much do we really know about this variant?

Most of our knowledge comes from the South African Genome Monitoring Network and the South African Government, both of which have been praised by researchers for their swift action to share information about variants. But there are more things we don’t know than we know. Tuliode Oliveira, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, Said yesterday The complete importance of mutations in mutants remains “uncertain.” Peacock adds: “”It is important to emphasize how much you do not know about this new variant. “

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Omicron: How dangerous is the B.1.1.529 variant found in South Africa?

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