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Omicron Variant: What You Need To Know

by | Jan 3, 2022 | Industry News

The Omicron variant is the latest coronavirus variant to cause a public health threat. Learn how to mitigate its transmission in this article.

Just when the world is gearing up for increased mobility and easing up on travel restrictions, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on November 28, 2021, the detection of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading across South Africa. While further research is underway, the public is being brief about its current whereabouts and recorded cases in hopes of mitigating the potential resurgence of COVID infections.

Healthcare professionals must keep patients informed about current developments regarding the Omicron variant to keep them guided about appropriate preventive measures.

 

First Recorded Omicron Infection

Omicron, otherwise known as B.1.1.529 variant, was first recorded in South Africa and reported to the WHO on November 24, 2021 (WHO, 2021). Almost all of the provinces in the country have posted a rising number of cases attributed to the new variant. Owing to its large number of mutations that could possibly penetrate even the vaccinated population, Omicron is now a variant of concern.

 

Omicron Variant Across Europe

While scientists are divided over when and where the first Omicron infection started, the COVID variant has reportedly spread across Europe. News outlets have been verifying the infection timelines in the continent as the world scrambles to impose travel bans across borders anew.

In the Netherlands, two test samples identified the first cases of Omicron infection. Inbound flights to Amsterdam between 19 to 23 November suggest that the variant had already spread in the continent long before it was first recorded in South Africa (BBC News, 2021).

Fourteen passengers who flew to Amsterdam tested positive for Omicron, while 61 passengers had contracted coronavirus. Other European countries that have reported the presence of the Omicron variant include the Czech Republic, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Sweden.

 

Omicron in Asia, Australia, and the U.S.

On November 30, 2021, Japan reported its first case of Omicron infection in a visitor who arrived at Narita airport from Namibia. In Hong Kong, health officials have confirmed that Omicron has reached its borders, citing the arrival of a passenger from South Africa via the Qatar flight QR818.

Across the Middle East, the Omicron variant was recorded in Israel and Saudi Arabia. The continent-nation of Australia has also reported seven cases of Omicron infection among travelers arriving in the country. It has since postponed its planned reopening of borders initially set to contain COVID-19. On December 1, the U.S. recorded its first Omicron infection in an individual who traveled from South Africa to California.

 

What the U.S. Knows About Omicron

As of December 20, 2021, Omicron has been detected in most states and territories and is rapidly increasing the proportion of COVID-19 cases it is causing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the Omicron variant is likely to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. However, how easily Omicron spread compared to Delta still remains unknown. Likewise, more data is still needed to know if Omicron infections cause more severe illness or death than infections with other variants, and if existing treatment for COVID-19 works against Omicron.

 

Current COVID-19 Vaccines vs. Omicron

At present, the WHO works with researchers to understand the potential impact of the Omicron variant on the existing countermeasures imposed by the organization (WHO, 2021). Among the first-line defense that work against the COVID strains is vaccines that remain critical to reducing severe illness and risk of mortality.

In light of the growing concerns over the sufficiency of vaccines in protecting the public against newer variants of the COVID virus, the consensus maintains that current vaccines are still effective in preventing severe disease and death. According to the CDC, it’s expected that the current vaccines can protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to Omicron infections. However, there are many reports of breakthrough infections among those who are fully vaccinated. Because of this, the emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and booster shots.

 

Mitigation Efforts Against Omicron

The WHO continues to prescribe PCR tests among global entry points to detect infection at the onset. Currently, studies are ongoing to provide conclusive recommendations regarding Omicron’s impact on testing, including rapid antigen tests.

The CDC, on the other hand, maintains that existing tools, such as vaccines, masks, and testing, still work in the fight against Omicron.

Vaccines remain the best public health measure of protection against COVID-19. It is also the best way to slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. The CDC recommends everyone 5 years and older be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For individuals already fully vaccinated, a booster shot is recommended at least 2 months after their initial Janssen vaccine and 6 months after completing the initial 2 doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Masks, likewise, also offer protection against all variants. The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

Testing can also tell if you are currently infected with COVID-19. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests can tell if you have a current infection. Self-tests can also be used anywhere and produce rapid results. If the self-test has a positive result, the CDC recommends self-isolation for 10 days and mask-wearing if contact with others is necessary.

Until further information is available the CDC advises using all three tools to protect individuals and the public.

 

Conclusion

The Omicron COVID variant is rapidly gaining momentum across the globe, and governments are mobilizing key sectors to mitigate viral transmissions that typically occur in transit between international borders. While further studies regarding the transmissibility and severity of infections are still underway, the CDC recommends the public to vaccinate, wear masks, and conduct testing to keep the threat of the Omicron variant at bay.

 

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