The Omicron Variant: All We Need To Know
The most common symptoms associated with this variant are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, bodyache and weakness, in other words similar to the ones you encounter with the other variants and the flu.
The omicron variant of Covid 19 may be less severe than delta
The year 2022 seems to have brought with it something that no one wanted - the surge of covid cases being hailed as the 3rd wave with hints of the dreaded lockdown. Amidst the chaos the newly emerged variant of SARS-CoV-2, Omicron was first found in South Africa and was reported to WHO on 24th November 2021. It was subsequently named as Omicron and ended up being classified as Variant of Concern. A SARS-CoV-2 variant gets classified as a variant of concern when it has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes-
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology; OR
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR
- Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
Currently designated Variants of Concern are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron. However there is a lot of uncertainty and studies are ongoing to get a better understanding of its transmissibility, severity and reinfection risk.
How did this variant came into existence in the first place?
Well the virus simply follows the Darwinian evolutionary theory - Survival of the fittest. Circulating widely, as the virus causes numerous infections, it keeps on undergoing mutations, giving itself a chance to survive. The more it spreads, the more opportunities it gets to mutate and thus gives rise to the variety of variants- Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omicron, Lambda, Mu and who knows how many more!!! Currently the Omicron, variant is spreading like a wildfire across the globe, raising concerns about throwing out a new variant altogether. As per the Union Health Ministry Data a total of 2135 cases of Omicron variant have been detected across 24 states and Union territories so far, with Maharashtra recording the maximum number of cases -653 followed by Delhi at 464, Kerala 185, Rajasthan 174, Gujarat 154 and Tamil Nadu 121 cases.
So is this variant more severe than the other variants or less severe?
Even though early findings have suggested that it might be less severe than the Delta variant, in order to label it as “mild”, much more data is needed. The most common symptoms associated with this variant are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, bodyache and weakness, in other words similar to the ones you encounter with the other variants and the flu. Minority of the patients experience breathlessness, loss of taste and smell. Recently two new symptoms- vomiting and loss of appetite have also been associated with this variant. Even though research on this variant is still ongoing , the sudden surge in the number of people testing positive has led to the assumption that this particular variant is highly contagious and easily transmissible. Although we have various treatment modalities- antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, corticosteroids depending on the severity and the supportive drugs alongwith maintaining adequate hydration, proper nutrition and rest, nothing beats taking precautions to ensure you don't get infected in the first place! As the old saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”.
How do we protect ourselves then?
Reduce the risk of exposure by simply following the rules! As per the figures majority of the patients who have tested positive were asymptomatic which should be motivation enough to strictly adhere to the designated rules. Continue to wear masks that cover your mouth and nose, follow the protocols of social distancing- keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre from others, avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, use sanitisers and the plain old soap and water ensuring adequate hand hygiene and get vaccinated if you are not vaccinated already! Even if you had acquired covid-19 previously you need to be vaccinated because even though you do develop natural immunity to the virus, we do not know yet how long does it last or how well you are protected. As per WHO reports, vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease and death. Remember in order to get the maximum protection you need to be fully vaccinated. In addition to this maintaining a balanced diet, keeping stress levels to the minimum, getting adequate rest, taking care of your mental health, ill help in order to build a good immunity to fend off the virus. As doctors continue to work relentlessly in these difficult times to provide the best possible care to the patients, it becomes the responsibility of the public to do their bit by following the social distancing norms and getting vaccinated thereby limiting the spread of this virus. Additionally as a responsible citizen try not falling prey to rumors, not self medicating, consulting your physician in case of symptoms, getting tested and isolating yourself till the test results are out. The burden on healthcare systems is immense, in these tough times a united front would help us in defeating the virus and it would also keep the hope of getting back to the pre-covid normalcy alive!
(Dr. Amit Saraf, Director Internal Medicine, & Dr Bitukaur Sodhi, DNB Medicine resident, Jupiter Hospital, Thane)
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