1. Biotech

About Omicron: The One Skyrockets Global COVID-19 Cases

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By January 24, 2021, more than 350 million COVID-19 cases have been reported amid a surge attributed to the now dominant omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Genetic variations of viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19 are not uncommon. Many other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been previously observed around the world these years, and omicron is the fastest-spreading virus known to humankind.

VOI and VOC

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is continually mutating, and the WHO claimed in a December 2020 Q&A that hundreds of variants have already been detected throughout the world. The ones we hear about are the ones the WHO is keeping a careful watch on because the changes they've gained benefit the virus in some manner; for example, they may have shown an ability to spread more quickly or cause more severe sickness.

Those the WHO thinks may be troublesome are initially designated as Variants of Interest (VOI). If further investigation and analysis of the data finds any of the following though, the variant will instead be named a Variant of Concern (VOC).

Only five variants have achieved VOC designation since the pandemic began in March 2020: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and now Omicron.

The emergence of Omicron

According to The New Yorker, scientists in South Africa raised the alarm after noticing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the country's Gauteng province, which they assumed was caused by the new variant type they'd discovered.

Although South Africa was the first to report it to the WHO, later data revealed that Omicron was first found in four foreign visitors who reached Botswana on November 7, 2021. Cases were then found all across the world within just several days.

What do we know about the Omicron variant?

“The spike protein of Omicron has 36 mutations, compared to 10 in alpha, 12 in gamma, and 9 in delta. Omicron contains mutations in the region of its spike protein that interacts directly with a receptor on human cells called ACE2. Omicron's alterations appear to boost its affinity for ACE2, allowing it to infect cells more effectively and increase its reproductive rate and transmissibility,” said a scientist from Creative Biolabs, a biotech company providing discovery services on antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The Omicron is found to cause a wide range of symptoms. Fever, cough, weariness, and loss of taste or smell are the most common symptoms, while sore throat, headache, aches, pains, diarrhoea, a rash on the skin, discoloration of fingers or toes, and red or irritated eyes are less prevalent. Serious symptoms may manifest as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, loss of speech or mobility, confusion, or chest pain.

Slowing transmission between people by wearing effective masks, social distancing, and ensuring adequate ventilation is also important. Testing for COVID-19 remains another pillar of the containment strategy to identify potentially asymptomatic cases and to commence treatment early in the course of the illness so that the medication is most effective.

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