New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday early indications suggested the Covid-19 Omicron variant was not worse than prior strains and was possibly milder while cautioning it would take weeks to judge its severity. President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor broke down the knowns and unknowns about Omicron into three major areas: transmissibility, how well it evades immunity from prior infection and vaccines, and severity of illness.

The new variant is "clearly highly transmissible," very likely more so than Delta, the current dominant global strain, Fauci said. Accumulating epidemiological data from around the world also indicates re-infections are higher with Omicron and it is likely better at evading immunity from vaccination.

On the question of severity, "it almost certainly is not more severe than Delta," said Fauci. "There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe, because when you look at some of the cohorts that are being followed in South Africa, the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalizations seems to be less than with Delta."

But he noted it was important to not over-interpret this data because the populations being followed skewed young and were less likely to become hospitalized. Severe disease can also take weeks to develop.

"I think that's going to take another couple of weeks at least" to confirm in South Africa, where the variant was first reported in November. Then as we get more infections throughout the rest of the world, it might take longer to see what's the level of severity," he said.

Fauci said a more transmissible virus that doesn't cause more severe illness and doesn't lead to a surge of hospitalizations and deaths was the best-case scenario. "The worst-case scenario is that it is not only highly transmissible, but it also causes severe disease and then you have another wave of infections that are not necessarily blunted by the vaccine or by people's prior infections," he added.

Mystery origin

The Omicron variant has now been detected in at least 38 countries. Though it has not yet been linked to any deaths, scientists are particularly concerned by the unique "constellation" of more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to invade cells.

Fauci said the science remains unclear on how the variant originated, but there are two main theories. Either it evolved inside the body of an immunocompromised patient, such as a person with HIV who failed to rapidly fight off the virus. Or, the virus could have crossed from humans to animals, then returned to people in a more mutated form, in an example of "reverse zoonosis."

Asked whether vaccinated people should act more cautiously given the unknowns, Fauci said the public should remain prudent, particularly during travel, and wear a mask when gathering indoors where the vaccination status of others is unknown. Those who are fully vaccinated should also seek a booster when eligible, he stressed.

 

(With Agency Inputs)

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan