Will Omicron be as deadly as Delta? Virologist on symptoms, prevention and scare around the new strain

  • Omicron is the latest variant of concern, but is it as dangerous as Delta? A virologist explains.
Microbiologists think that omicron's mutations may make it easier for the virus to infect us via ACE-2 receptors (Emma-Sofia Olsson / REUTERS PHOTO)
Microbiologists think that omicron's mutations may make it easier for the virus to infect us via ACE-2 receptors (Emma-Sofia Olsson / REUTERS PHOTO)
Published on Dec 02, 2021 03:04 PM IST
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ByParmita Uniyal

Just when the world was taking a sigh of relief thinking Coronavirus pandemic was over, the new Variant Of Concern (VOC) Omicron has left everyone worried. Global pharma giant Moderna CEO's remarks that the current vaccines may not be as effective against the new variant has added to the worries of people. While it is expected that in coming weeks, facts regarding Omicron will emerge and a solution will be found sooner than later the time-tested precautions would shield from the deadly virus.

Why Omicron is a variant of concern

Not every strain of Covid-19 garners as much attention as a select few of them including Delta and Omicron. Virus mutations are very common and not every variant would get a name because the process of evolution is an ongoing one.

"Typically when an atypical case in a patient (of Covid-19) is observed, the samples are sent for sequencing, just to see why it is behaving differently. It could be that the patient reacted very severely, there is a sudden spike in cases, or the patient may have some other illness and the symptoms are showing slightly different. One such variant that has been identified as Omicron," says Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, Director, Covid Task Force, Awareness, Rotary Club of Madras Next Gen in an interview with HT Digital.

ALSO READ: WHO confirms Omicron Covid-19 variant in 23 countries. Here’s the full list

Dr Venkatagopalan says that virus changing is not a big deal. She says it only becomes a problem when these changes are affecting the way the virus behaves, the severity of the infections, and the way we are combating these infection like vaccination. "Omicron is the variant of concern because it may affect our current plan of action, and because it seems to be spreading faster than other variants. At the same time, we don't know yet how efficiently this virus will spread," says the virologist.

She says the fact that there are a lot of mutations or changes in virus genome where it can affect the antibodies that are already formed from previous infection or vaccination, adds to the concern.

Omicron Vs Delta variant

Omicron has revived the fear of another virus outbreak making people wonder if the new variant could trigger a similar or more intense wave of infections in the coming months in India. The virologist says the new variant may not be as lethal as delta variant as the symptoms of the patients who are infected by the variant are mild.

"We know from the symptoms that we are seeing in the patients that are infected by Omicron, based on the few clusters in South Africa that people seem to be having only mild symptoms. It may not become as lethal as delta variant, and it might be something we can live with, without having too much fear compared to delta variant. Also, at that point not a lot of people were vaccinated. Now a lot more people are vaccinated," says Dr Venkatagopalan.

"Theoretically vaccines in India like Covaxin and Covishield will be quite effective against omicron variant as well. In case of double vaccinated people, cases of serious infections and mortality should be low. In populations that are unvaccinated, there are chances that mortality might be high but based on what we know about Omicron, it only seems to be causing mild infections, so the chances of it (being as deadly as second wave) really are 50-50 in unvaccinated," says the expert.

Common symptoms of Omicron

The virologist says the symptoms are "pretty much the same" except omicron may not affect people's smell and taste as much as previous variants did.

"You have scratchy throat, cough, fever, body ache, tiredness - smell and taste are not affected as much as in case of previous variants," says the expert.

Prevention from Omicron

The virologist says it is important for people to be double vaccinated. "There is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy (in people) which is unfortunate because vaccines save lives, they are our friends, vaccines prevent us from horrible deaths. You can stand in line to give your child polio drop, but you would not get the covid vaccine yourself. You should protect yourself the way you protect your child," urges the expert.

Stressing on the important of masking up, Dr Venkatagopalan says it should be religiously followed. She also says in case of cold, cough or other Covid symptoms, one should isolate self and get tested. Being aware of what's happening around you and washing hands frequently are other practices that one must follow for protection from the virus.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022