By Catherine Garcia The Week
The new Omicron coronavirus variant has now been detected in more than 23 countries, including the United States. What makes Omicron different from other variants, and will it drastically change the way the U.S. is handling the pandemic? Here’s what you need to know:
What is a coronavirus variant?
Viruses constantly mutate, and sometimes, the mutations make a disease more infectious. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are tracking COVID-19 variants of interest (VOIs) and variants of concern (VOCs). To be a variant of concern, there has to be evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, and/or reduced effectiveness of vaccines or treatments. On Monday, the WHO announced that it designated Omicron as a VOC, due to its large number of mutations.
So those mutations are what make the Omicron variant stand out?
Yes. Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in late November, has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to attach to human cells. This is an “unusually high number of mutations,” The New York Times reports, meaning that Omicron has the potential to be more transmissible and less susceptible to existing vaccines. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said the “emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” and is another reminder “that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us.”
Categories: Health and Medicine