Get ready to learn more Greek letters. Researchers warn that the turbulent progression of omicron will ensure in practice that it is not the latest version of the coronavirus to worry the world.
Each infection allows the virus to mutate, and omicron has an advantage over its predecessors: it spreads much faster despite appearing on a planet with stronger immunity to vaccines and previous diseases.
This means more people where the virus can continue to develop. Experts do not know what the next versions will look like or how they could modify the pandemic, but they say there is no guarantee that omicron extensions will cause milder diseases or that existing vaccines will work against them.
They are demanding more vaccination now, although current vaccines are still working.
“The faster omicrons spread, the more chance there is of mutation, which could lead to more variation,” Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, said.
Since its emergence in mid-November, Omikron has raced around the globe like fire through dry grass. Studies show that the variant is at least twice as contagious as the delta and at least four times more contagious than the original version of the virus.
Omicron is more likely than delta to re-infect people who have previously had COVID-19 and cause “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people while attacking unvaccinated people. The World Health Organization reports a record 15 million new COVID-19 cases from 3 to 9 March. January, an increase of 55% from the previous week.
“Longer, persistent infections appear to be the most likely growth media for the new variants,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University. “Only when you have a very widespread infection are you going to offer a chance to do so.”
Because omicron appears to cause a less serious illness than delta, its behavior has raised hopes that it could be the start of a trend that will eventually make the virus milder than the common flu.
According to experts, this is possible because viruses do not spread well if they kill their host very quickly. But viruses don’t always become less deadly over time.
The variant could also achieve its main goal – to replicate – if infected people initially had mild symptoms, spread the virus in interaction with others and then become ill later, Ray explained as an example.
“People have been wondering if the virus develops mildly. But there is no particular reason for it, he said. “I don’t think we can count on the virus to become less deadly over time.”
Avoiding immunity gradually improves the long-term survival of the virus. When SARS-CoV-2 first struck, no one was immune. But infections and vaccines have given at least some immunity to much of the world, so the virus needs to adapt.
There are many possible ways to evolve. Animals may incubate and release new variants. Pet dogs and cats, deer and farm-raised mink are just a few of the animals that are susceptible to the virus, which can potentially mutate in them and jump back at people.
Another possible route: When both the omicron and the delta circulate, people can get double infections, which can give rise to hybrids called both “Franken variants” by Ray, which have characteristics of both types.
As new variants develop, the researchers said it is still very difficult to know which of them could arise from the genetic traits. For example, omicron has many more mutations than previous variants, about 30 peak proteins that allow it to attach to human cells. But the so-called IHU variant, identified in France and controlled by the WHO, has 46 mutations and does not appear to have spread much.
Anne Thomas, a 64-year-old IT analyst from Westerly, Rhode Island, said she has been fully vaccinated and vaccinated and is also trying to stay safe by staying mostly at home when her state has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the United States.
“I have no doubt at all that these viruses will continue to mutate and we will be dealing with this for a very long time,” he said.
Ray compared vaccines to human armor, which greatly prevents the spread of the virus, even if it doesn’t completely stop it. He said the virus, which is spreading exponentially, “can have a big impact on anything that prevents it from spreading.” In addition, when vaccinated people get sick, Ray said their illness tends to be milder and heals faster, leaving less time for dangerous variants to emerge.
Experts say the virus will not become endemic like the flu as long as global vaccination rates are so low. At a recent press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that protecting people from future variants – including those that may be completely resistant to today’s injections – depends on ending global vaccine inequalities.
Tedros said he would like 70% of people in all countries to be vaccinated by the middle of the year. According to statistics from Johns Hopkins University, there are currently dozens of countries where less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. And in the United States, many people still oppose the vaccines available.
“These huge unvaccinated swaths in the United States, Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere are essentially variations of factories,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha of the global health study at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “It has been a huge failure in global leadership that we have not been able to do this.”
Meanwhile, new variants are inevitable, said Louis Mansky, director of the Institute of Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota.
With so many unvaccinated people, he said, “the virus is still kind of in control of events.”
The Department of Health and Science of the Associated Press receives support from the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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