Referred to by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a ‘variant of concern’, the latest COVID-19 variant, now better known as Omicron, was first identified in South Africa and has now been detected in over 20 countries worldwide .
According to experts, this particular form of COVID is concerning because of the large number of mutations that could potentially make the virus more transmissible. That being said, there is no evidence to suggest that this is true just yet and there is research ongoing worldwide to better understand Omicron and to help answer the many questions we all have surrounding it. And while these studies continue, these are just some of the things we know so far about the latest COVID-19 variant: Omicron.
What does Omicron mean?
In May of this year, WHO announced a naming system for COVID-19 variants of concern to make it a little less confusing and a lot easier to communicate about the different variants of the virus . There are now seven variants, or ‘variants of concern’ or ‘variants of interest’, each of which has been named after a Greek letter. The latest variant was named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
Where did Omicron come from?
The Omicron variant was first reported to WHO in late November from South Africa. It is now estimated that numerous countries across the world have reported cases of the variant, and during a recent press update, WHO Director-General stated that they expect the number to continue growing. However, it’s important to note that the Delta variant still accounts for nearly all cases globally.
Do COVID-19 tests detect Omicron?
PCR tests, including the LetsGetChecked Coronavirus Test, are still a reliable way to detect COVID-19 infection, including infection with Omicron. Regarding rapid-antigen tests, there are studies being carried out to determine if these types of tests and their accuracy are impacted. However, according to the FDA, it is likely that both types of tests will continue to work.
When asked about LetsGetChecked’s COVID-19 PCR testing and the Omicron variant, LetsGetChecked’s Director of Laboratory Operations, Lorna Ingoldsby, said:
"The current variant (Omicron) of Sars-CoV-2 contains mutations on the spike protein. This does not impact any of our molecular testing at the lab as this gene is not used as a target region for the detection of Sars-CoV-2 in our test. All of the variants of concern currently listed by the WHO are detected by our molecular testing at the lab."
Will COVID-19 vaccines cover the Omicron variant?
At present, the WHO is working to understand how this particular variant might impact the efficacy of the vaccine. With that said, vaccines still remain a critical way of helping to reduce the risk of severe infection, and they still work against the most dominant variant: Delta .
Speaking on the importance of vaccinations and boosters in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Robert Mordkin, LetsGetChecked’s Chief Medical Officer said:
“For now, people should interpret the rise of the Omicron variant as further evidence about the importance of getting fully vaccinated, including boosters when appropriate, and continue to practice good hand hygiene and mask use when among large indoor groups of people."
What are the symptoms of Omicron?
At the moment, WHO has stated that it is not clear if the symptoms of Omicron differ from those of any other COVID-19 variants that we are already familiar with . This means that the known COVID-19 symptoms potentially still apply, these include:
- Loss of taste or smell
Remember, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or would simply like peace of mind before visiting family over the holidays, you can get tested from home with the LetsGetChecked Coronavirus Test which works to detect all variants of the virus.
How does it compare to the other variants?
It is still not clear how the Omicron variant compares to other COVID-19 variants. WHO has said that it could take a number of weeks before we fully understand this but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s possible that it may spread more easily than other variants such as Delta .
Other early data suggest that the rates of hospitalization in South Africa are increasing - but it is not clear if this is a result of people becoming infected with the new variant or it is due to an overall increase of people becoming infected with the virus in general.
Researchers are working to better understand the Omicron variant. We will continue to provide clarity and share reliable findings as they become available. It’s important to continue following public health guidelines to help reduce your risk of contracting the virus.
If you are experiencing symptoms, have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, or would like peace of mind while visiting your family over the holiday season, you can get tested from the comfort of home with LetsGetChecked.
- World Health Organization. Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern. Online: WHO.int
- World Health Organization. WHO announces simple, easy-to-say labels for SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Interest and Concern. Online: WHO.int
- World Health Organization. Update on Omicron. Online: Who.int
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Need to Know About Variants. Online: Cdc.gov