Omicron variant: Doctor warns of risk of reinfection
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South African scientists were the first to sequence the new variant before it arrived in Europe. Officials have since reported 160 cases across the UK, with warnings that the comparatively low number could become “thousands”. Scientists fear Omicron poses a new danger as they were initially unable to measure its severity and potential for vaccine escape, but WHO data has helped shed new light on the situation.
How deadly is the Omicron variant?
Early on, experts feared Omicron was mutated enough to escape immunity provided by both vaccine doses.
In effect, that would allow the variant to infect people as if they had no acquired defences, effectively pushing the world back to March 2020 – square one.
The WHO recently came forward with some early encouraging findings, however.
In a report released on Friday, the organisation said that of the 38 countries touched by the variant, none have reported Omicron-specific deaths.
However, experts believe it is still too early to tell how deadly Omicron is.
They have urged caution, stating most people have not fought the variant for long enough, with most hospitalisations and deaths associated with others occurring in the second week of infection.
The WHO added it would take longer before it has a complete picture of the disease’s capabilities and how effective treatments are.
Michael Ryan, WHO emergencies director, said his staff would endeavour to “get the answers that everybody out there needs”.
Scientists believe Omicron does have some ability to escape immunity, but not that provided by the vaccine.
Researchers working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) believe it has “substantial” resistance to natural immunity provided by previous infections.
Findings from the South African institute followed a real-world study of each variant that identified people were 2.4 times more likely to get reinfected with Omicron.
The results, although not yet peer-reviewed, concluded evidence pointed towards a “substantial and ongoing increase in the risk of reinfection”.
And the researchers called for an “urgent” investigation into whether Omicron could do the same with vaccines.
They added they would also need to measure the “potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death”.
Officials believe the variant also causes alternative Covid symptoms.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, identified three symptoms associated with Omicron.
Researchers have identified these as milder than those caused by the other variants.
The symptoms include:
- Body aches
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