Illustration of antibodies attacking SARS CoV-2.  (SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

The variant Omicron It has become the predominant one in the world, as it is responsible for 60% of cases worldwide, thus displacing Delta. In Lima, according to the National Institute of Health, 80% of cases are due to it.

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What impact will it have Omicron in hospital services, and could this be the latest wave of covid-19? They are the two main questions about the variant, much more contagious but less virulent than the previous ones, according to recent information.

What do we know about Ómicron?

Six weeks after its identification in South Africa, data from several countries coincided on two points: Omicron is transmitted much faster than the previously dominant Delta variant, and it seems globally less severe.

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Ómicron is progressing brilliantly in many countries and cases double every two or three days, something never seen before.

At the same time, data from “the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Israel suggest a reduced risk of hospitalization compared to the other variants (from 81% to 56%),” the Santé Publique France agency highlighted last week.

ALSO READ: Omicron patients are hospitalized less and for less time, study finds

Early studies in South Africa indicated this trend. But those data are still incomplete and they must be handled with prudence.

This raises an important question: it is not known if the fact that it is less virulent is due to the mutations of the variant or the fact that it infects people who were already partially immunized (thanks to the vaccine or from a previous infection). .

Illustration of antibodies attacking SARS CoV-2. (SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

One element in particular could partly explain why Ómicron is both more contagious and less severe.

According to various studies, it seems to particularly infect the upper airways (nose, throat) but less the lungs, where covid becomes a serious pathology.

This particularity allows eject it more easily, but at the same time, the virus is also more contagious.

Some specialists recommend, therefore, the FFP2 or KN95 masks, which protect more than the surgical ones.

What consequences in hospitals?

Long queues to carry out a COVID-19 discard test, in the field of Mars, Jesús María.  (Photos: Joel Alonzo/@photo.gec)
Long queues to carry out a COVID-19 discard test, in the field of Mars, Jesús María. (Photos: Joel Alonzo/@photo.gec)

For now, it is the great enigma.

The equation depends on two unknowns: Will Omicron’s lower severity compensate for the fact that it is much more contagious?

“Although the proportion of serious cases is lower, having a record number of cases can lead to a record number of hospitalizations”, American virologist Angela Rasmussen explained on Twitter on Friday.

The consequences for hospitals appear to be different from previous waves.

The Omicron it appears to be less saturated with resuscitation services, as it causes less severe forms. This is indicated, for example, by a recent report by the Danish Health Agency, SSI.

In December the number of new cases increased by 69% in Denmark, but hospitalizations only by 47%, while serious cases by 20%.

However, it is difficult to distinguish people hospitalized due to covid from those who suffer other types of ailments and who test positive upon arrival at the health center.

An example of the difference between hospitalizations, mortality and cases also occurs in Peru, which registers an explosive increase in COVID-19 cases.

The graph shows the difference in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the three waves.  In black the deaths;  red, the cases;  and violet, hospitable occupation.  (Credit: Juan Carbajal)
The graph shows the difference in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the three waves. In black the deaths; red, the cases; and violet, hospitable occupation. (Credit: Juan Carbajal)

What about vaccines?

Omicron mutations appear to reduce the immunity of antibodies to the virus, so it can spread among many of the vaccinated people (and even reinfect some).

Several studies carried out in the laboratory show that the antibody rate falls against Omicron among people who received the vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and, even more so with AstraZeneca or Sinovac (Chinese vaccine used by about fifty countries).

A booster dose seems to clearly improve antibody immunity. At least that’s what different labs announced: Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. But one crucial piece of information is missing: it is unknown how long this effect lasts.

Chile will apply a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine from February 15.  (Reuters)
Chile will apply a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine from February 15. (Reuters)

This does not mean that vaccines are not effective, because antibodies are only one of the tools of the immune response, which also relies on cells called T lymphocytes.

Although more difficult to measure, this “cellular immunity” is no less important, especially in severe cases of the disease.

Thus, a study presented in mid-December in South Africa suggests that Pfizer / BioNTech continues to be effective against the serious forms caused by Omicron, even before the booster dose (and, no doubt, some time later).

The last wave?

“Perhaps it is the last variant, perhaps the last wave”, ventured the French Minister of Health, Olivier Veran.

One of the heads of the Danish agency, Tyra Grove Krause, also expressed her “Prudent optimism about the situation once we have overcome the Omicron surge.”

But “The more Ómicron spreads, the more it is transmitted and the more it is replicated, and the more susceptible it is to creating a new variant”, A WHO official, Catherine Smallwood, warned in a statement to AFP on Tuesday.

With information from AFP

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