Concern is growing over the new Covid-19 Omicron variant after several cases have been discovered in the UK.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the new B.1.1.529 strain as a ‘variant of concern’ on November 26.
First identified in South Africa, the variant has forced many countries – including the UK – to tighten travel restrictions in a bid to prevent its spread.
Scotland now has nine cases of the Omicron Covid variant, bringing the UK total to 14.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, who was one of the first people to suspect the Omicron Covid strain, described it as a “clinical picture that doesn’t fit Delta” when speaking to the BBC, raising concerns for health professionals around the globe.
She added that she alerted health officials when seven patients showed different symptoms that seemed “very much related to normal viral infection”.
But what is the Omicron strain, what are the symptoms and what does this mean for current vaccines?
Here is everything you need to know.
What is the Omicron Covid variant?
The new strain which is scientifically know as B.1.1.529, is described as a super mutant variant.
This is due to the 50 genetic mutations within the new strain, with over 30 of them being spike protein mutations.
The Omicron variant is made up of parts seen before in other variants, however there are new parts of never seen before.
These never-before-seen mutations are the reason scientists have expressed worry over the Omicron variants as well as its transmissibility and ability to evade immunity provided by vaccination and previous infection.
What are the symptoms of Omicron?
The symptoms of the Omicron variant are “mild”, according to Dr Coetzee.
The South African doctor who spotted the new strain told BBC that her patients presented with:
- Extreme tiredness
- Mild muscle aches
- A scratchy throat
- A dry cough
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that initially reported infections were among university students exhibiting mild illness.
Despite symptoms being described as mild, Dr Coetzee warned: “What we have to worry about is older, unvaccinated people.
“If they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many people with a sever form of the disease.”
The WHO added that the severity of the new variant will not be clear for weeks as more research is still to be carried out.
How to symptoms differ from other variants like Delta?
In comparison to previous strains – particularly Delta – it is thought that Omicron Covid is less severe.
Speaking to BBC, Dr Coetzee highlighted that there has been no patients admitted to hospital over the infections so far, with most cases likely to be manageable at home.
Will vaccines still provide protection from Omicron?
Currently, the WHO is leading a large number of studies around the world in order to grasp a better understanding of the Omicron variant.
Despite a lack of concluded research, the chief executive of Moderna has predicted that existing vaccines will be much less effective at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of coronavirus.
The concerns are caused by the genetic mutations included in the new strain. Meaning it is more likely that the make-up of current vaccines will provide less protection.
The spread of the South Africa originated strain could mean that current vaccines will require modification in order to ensure protection.
Scientists are also unsure whether immunity from previous Covid infections will be evaded by the new strain due to the differing spike proteins within the virus.
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