Viruses are constantly adapting and changing over time, and COVID-19 is no exception to the rule. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to mutate, new virus variants will occur.
If you think about a virus like a tree growing and branching out, each branch on the tree is slightly different from the others. By comparing the branches, scientists can label them according to the differences. These slight differences, or variants, have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic. Some variations allow the virus to spread more quickly or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. Those variants must be monitored more carefully.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, only one strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified. However, viruses constantly change through mutation, and sometimes these mutations result in new variants of the virus emerging.
In mid-2021, a new variant, Delta, emerged, which quickly became the predominant variant of the virus in the United States. The Delta variant was more infectious, which led to increased transmissibility compared to other variants, even in some vaccinated individuals. Delta's contagiousness was 2x more than previous variants.
In November 2021, the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa and quickly spread throughout the globe. Within a few weeks of its first detection in the United States, the Omicron Variant was responsible for more than 59% of all new COVID-19 infections.
The Omicron variant likely will spread more quickly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. The rapid growth rate in Omicron infections is believed to result from a combination of increased transmissibility and the ability to evade immunity conferred by past infection or vaccination (i.e., immune evasion) 1; 2.
The Omicron variant is still in its infancy, and the information available is still unfolding. Preliminary evidence does show it may spread more quickly. But more data is needed to determine the severity of illness it causes or how well available vaccines and medications work against it.
While the CDC is working with its health officials to gather more data on the Omicron variant, research published in the BMJ showed the following. The top five symptoms reported in the app for omicron infection were:
In addition, the study listed fever, cough, and loss of sense of smell or taste—which were the most common with the original variant—as the covid symptoms to watch out for.
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Regardless of the variant, it is essential to look out for the symptoms that are synonymous with the earlier variants, per the CDC:
The two new variants of COVID-19 are spreading rapidly throughout the country. As of Tuesday, December 28th, The US hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, as two highly contagious variants — Delta and Omicron — have spread across the country. According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of US cases topped 267,000 on Tuesday.
"Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said at a news conference in Geneva. "I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases."
As cases continue to rise, it is essential, we all stay vigilant in helping slow the spread of COVID-19. Regardless of whether it's Omicron, Delta, or the original SARS-CoV-2 variant, the prevention and steps are the same:
The virus that causes COVID-19 is constantly changing and will continue to mutate. As a result, new variants of the virus are expected to occur. Taking steps to reduce the spread of infection and following CDC guidance is the best way to slow the emergence of new variants.
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