New York- Early data on the Omicron Covid-19 variant is "a bit encouraging" and does not indicate a great degree of danger, says Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert.
While there has been reports of spike in hospitalisation due to Omicron in South Africa, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, they are "not alarming".
"Though it's too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it," Fauci was quoted as saying on CNN's 'State of the Union' on Sunday.
"Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging. But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe, or it really doesn't cause any severe illness, comparable to Delta," he added.
Lab tests are underway to determine whether the super mutant Omicron is more transmissible than other strains, resistant to immunity from vaccination, and if infection is more severe. The results are expected within weeks.
Meanwhile, at least 15 states in the US have detected the Omicron variant and that number is expected to rise, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Rochelle Walensky.
"We know we have several dozen cases and we're following them closely. And we are everyday hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise," Walensky was quoted as saying on ABC News' 'This Week'.
Even if Omicron proves less dangerous than Delta, it remains problematic, World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove told CBS' 'Face The Nation'.
"Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalisations," she said.
"They will need to go into the ICU and some people will die. We don't want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with Delta circulating globally."
The US, last week, along with more than 50 countries imposed a travel ban on South Africa and seven other southern African countries to stem the variant's spread. However, scientists say that the travel restrictions have come too late and could even slow studies of the new super mutant.
Fauci said the US will likely lift its ban on travellers from southern African countries in a "reasonable period of time".
However, the vast majority of cases in the US continue to be caused by the Delta variant.
"We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the US, and 99.9 per cent of them are the Delta variant," Walensky said. (Agency)
Read More► Omicron Reaches India, Two Cases Detected in Karnataka
London- While the Covid-19 crisis is not over yet with the new super mutant Omicron spreading to 38 countries, the next pandemic could be even more lethal, said the creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Professor Sarah Gilbert.
Delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Gilbert cautioned that it is increasingly obvious that "this pandemic is not done with us", and vaccines could also prove to be less effective against the Omicron variant, the BBC reported.
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford whose team developed the Covid vaccine now used in 170 countries, said the scientific advances made and knowledge gained in research fighting against the coronavirus must not be lost.
She also stressed on the need for more funding on pandemic preparedness.
"This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both," Gilbert was quoted as saying.
"We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.
A"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
So far it is known that the Omicron variant's spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
"But there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron."
Moreover, Omicron is said to appear less dangerous than previous variants like Delta, which has claimed more than 5 million lives, so far.
However, Gilbert said reduced protection against infection and mild disease would not necessarily mean reduced protection against severe illness and death.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant."
The UK recorded 86 new cases of the Omicron variant on Sunday, taking the total so far to 246. In total, 43,992 cases and 54 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were recorded on Sunday. (Agency)
Read More► Omicron Patients Show Extreme Tiredness, No Major Oxygen Drop
While there is no data or evidence to show that children are not susceptible to Covid infection, Omicron may not cause a significant impact in children, experts argued on Monday.
According to health officials in South Africa, the new super mutant variant of Covid-19 Omicron has been increasing hospitalisations among children under five years of age. Wassila Jassat, public health specialist at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said: "A new trend in this wave is the increase in hospitalisation of children under five."
However, allaying fears of a similar scenario in India, microbiologist Dr Saumitra Das from the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), on Monday said that Omicron may not infect children in other countries, particularly in India, the way it is affecting kids in South Africa, media reports said.
Dr H.K. Mahajan, anaesthesiologist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Vasant Kunj, told IANS: "As far as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is concerned, there is no such hazard to children. As a country, we are prepared to meet the Omicron virus because we have adequate paediatric wards and paediatricians, as well as the necessary infrastructure."
The NICD also said that children under the age of two account for about 10 per cent of total hospital admissions in Tshwane, the Omicron epicentre in South Africa, the report said.
But Das said that Indians will not be impacted in a similar way.
Mahajan agreed and said: "Our natural immunity will aid us in the fight against the Omicron virus."
However, Dr Vikram Gagneja, Consultant, Paediatrics and Intensivist, Pediatrics, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi, told IANS, that Indian children can be at a similar risk.
"The South African situation can be repeated in India in view of lack of immunisation in this age group and also it is difficult to maintain Covid appropriate behaviour especially among infants and young children," he said.
While 50 per cent of the adult population in India has received two doses of the vaccine, and 84 per cent has received one dose, children are yet to be inoculated in the country.
On the other hand, several countries including the US, and Israel are well established in their vaccination programmes for children against Covid.
"India should follow suit and start paediatric Covid vaccination at the earliest, as more and more schools and educational institutions are opening up its doors for in-person classes," Dr Praveena, Assistant Professor, Paediatric ID specialist at Amrita Hospital, Kochi, told IANS.
Praveena stated that although "infections in children have been mild...no data or evidence that shows that children are not susceptible to infection".
The risk in children can be mitigated by following the public health measures already recommended by health authorities -- maintaining hand hygiene, masking and maintaining safe distance and keeping off crowded places.
Gagneja noted that the only way to protect kids is to start immunisation for them. It is also necessary to upgrade our healthcare system to cater to children, in case a situation arises.
"This is also the time when the young population is also vulnerable to other types of respiratory viruses or allergens so distinguishing them from Omicron via appropriate testing is helpful to avoid unnecessary panic situations," he said. (Agency)
Read More► WHO Classifies B.1.1.529 As 'Variant of Concern' Named Omicron
Jerusalem- The Omicron variant, with more than 30 mutations on its spike protein, may not be as dangerous as the Delta and Alpha and other variants of coronavirus, which has so far claimed more than five millions lives across the world. However, the variant appears to be more contagious, said a scientist from Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Omicron has spread to nearly 38 countries, but no deaths have yet been reported.
"We have to say this with a lot of caution, but if we look at the currently available information, there is reason to believe that the variant is spreading fast, but maybe it is not so dangerous," Prof. Dror Mevorach, a senior physician was quoted as saying to Jerusalem Post.
South Africa's Tshwane District Omicron Variant Patient Profile showed that 80 per cent of hospital admissions in the previous two weeks were people below age 50, the vast majority of whom did not require oxygen support.
This can be explained in several ways, including the lower age of the patients, or that the course of the Omicron variant is milder, Mevorach said.
Some experts have also suggested that if Omicron is more infectious but milder, it could make corona more similar to the flu.A
Mevorach agreed, saying that "it would really be good news for the world. I think that we have had indications of vaccinated people getting infected, but it appears that their disease is mild".
If this is so, he said different scenarios might emerge.
"We might need to accept that some people are going to get sick, and treat them with the antiviral treatments that are about to become available, or the vaccines might be slightly tweaked to be more effective," he said. "However, I'm not really sure that we will need to do it. The first option might be good enough."
Mevorach also expressed optimism that the protection granted by the booster will last for a long time, the report said.
"What I have seen in immunological studies is that the booster really increases the antibodies, and I think it will give a longer-lasting immunity," he said.
Meanwhile, the number of Omicron Covid-19 variant cases in Israel have rose from seven to 11, the Israeli Health Ministry has said in a statement.
While the WHO said on December 3 that it had still not seen any reports of deaths related to Omicron, the new variant's spread has led to warnings that it could cause more than half of Europe's Covid-19 cases in the next few months.
A preliminary study by researchers in South Africa, where the variant was first reported on November 24, suggests it is three times more likely to cause reinfections compared to the Delta or Beta strains.
South African doctors said there had been a spike in children under five admitted to hospital since Omicron emerged, but stressed it was too early to know if young children were particularly susceptible. (Agency)
Read More► Study Shows Covid Ups Risk of Death Within A Year
People who survived severe Covid-19 infections are more than twice at risk of dying over the following year, compared with those who experience mild or moderate disease or remain uninfected, finds a study.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, showed that the increased risk of death was greater for patients who are under 65.
Researchers at the University of Florida, in the US, found that severe Covid-19 patients aged under 65 demonstrated a 233 per cent increased chance of dying, compared with the uninfected.
This was larger than the increased chance of dying experienced by severe Covid-19 patients aged over 65, compared with the uninfected. As these deaths frequently occurred long after the initial infection had passed, they may never have been linked to Covid-19 by the patients' families or doctors.
Moreover, 80 per cent deaths that occurred in severe Covid-19 survivors were not linked with common complications from the disease, such as respiratory or cardiovascular issues. This suggests that the patients had experienced an overall decline in their health that left them vulnerable to various ailments, the researchers said.
Mild or moderate Covid-19 patients did not have a significantly increased mortality risk compared with the uninfected, highlighting the importance of reducing the chances of severe disease through vaccination.
"Since we now know that there is a substantial risk of dying from what would likely be considered to be an unrecognised complication of Covid-19, we need to be even more vigilant in decreasing severe episodes of Covid-19,a said lead author Prof Arch Mainous of the University of Florida.
"Taking your chances and hoping for successful treatment in the hospital doesn't convey the full picture of the impact of Covid-19. Our recommendation at this point is to use preventive measures, such as vaccination, to prevent severe episodes of Covid-19."
For the study, the team tracked electronic health records of 13,638 patients who underwent a PCR test for Covid-19, with 178 patients experiencing severe Covid-19, 246 mild or moderate Covid-19 and the rest testing negative. All patients included in the study recovered from the disease, and the researchers tracked their outcomes over the next 12 months.
Read More► Omicron Covid Variant Ups Reinfection Risk by Three-Fold: Study
The new super mutant Omicron variant of Covid-19 can increase risk of reinfection by three times as compared to other variants of concern such as Beta and Delta, according to a preliminary study by South African researchers.
The study, published pre-print on medrxiv, which means not peer-reviewed yet, showed that recent reinfections have occurred in individuals whose primary infections occurred across all three waves, with the most having their primary infection in the Delta wave.
Population-level evidence suggested that the Omicron variant is associated with substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection. This finding has important implications for public health planning, particularly in countries like South Africa with high rates of immunity from prior infection, the researchers said.
"We find evidence of increased reinfection risk associated with emergence of the #Omicron variant, suggesting evasion of immunity from prior infection," Juliet R.C. Pulliam, from DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, wrote on Twitter.
The team examined whether SARS-CoV-2 reinfection risk has changed through time in South Africa, in the context of the emergence of the Beta, Delta, and Omicron variants and conducted a retrospective analysis of routine epidemiological surveillance data from 2,796,982 individuals with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 who had a positive test result at least 90 days prior to 27 November 2021. The results showed that 35,670 individuals had suspected reinfections.
They developed two methods to monitor signatures of changes in reinfection risk -- a null model with no change in reinfection risk and compared observed patterns to projections under the null model.
"Using this approach, we start to see reinfection numbers exceeding the projection intervals from mid-November in Gauteng and nationally,"Pulliam said.
In the other approach, the team looked at trends in the relative hazards of primary infection and reinfection.
"Since early October, we see a decreased risk of primary infection, though this could be partially explained by vaccine rollout. We see a simultaneous increase in reinfection risk.
"We also see a recent increase in the number of reinfections in individuals who had already had multiple suspected infections from mid-November.
"These findings suggest that Omicron's selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals," Pulliam said.
However, the study does not provide information about the vaccination status of individuals in the data set and therefore the researchers said they cannot conclude whether Omicron also evades vaccine-derived immunity and the potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death.
"Immune escape from prior infection, whether or not Omicron can also evade vaccine derived immunity, has important implications for public health globally, but there is still a lot we don't know," Pulliam said.
The team aims to next include quantifying the extent of Omicron's immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants. (Agency)
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