Omicron Variant Update

Published

On November 26th, WHO designated Omicron as a coronavirus Variant of Concern.  Read on to learn what is known about this new variant.

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 29 years experience.

Here’s what is known about the Omicron variant.

Omicron Variant Update

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified Omicron (SARS-CoV-2) as a Variant of Concern (VOC). As of this writing, there have been no cases of the new variant identified in the U.S., but experts warn it's only a matter of time.  There's a lot to be learned about how Omicron spreads,  how symptoms present and its response to vaccines.  Researchers around the globe are working to get a better understanding of the variant.  Let’s look at what is currently known about the virus and the expected impact on public health.

Variant of Concern (VOC)

WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) found Omicron meets the definition of a Variant of Concern (VOC) after an extensive comparative analysis of available data.  TAG-VE, an independent group of experts, found Omicron to be associated with one or more of the changes that could impact global health:

  • Increase in how easily it spreads or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR
  • Increase in virulence (severity) or change in clinical presentation; OR
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, or therapeutics.

You can learn more about the VOCs here.

Omicron Timeline

Here is a snapshot of Omicron’s timeline:

November 9, 2021

  • The first known infection of Omicron, then known as B.1.1.529, was confirmed from a specimen collected in South Africa.

November 24, 2021

  • South Africa announced the detection of a new variant after studying its DNA sequence.

November 26, 2021

  • WHO designated Omicron a VOC.  The U.S. issued a travel ban for non-U.S. citizens travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

November 27, 2021

  • A recorded 115 cases have been identified, primarily from Botswana and South Africa.  However, cases were also reported in Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom

Transmission

According to WHO, it is not yet known if Omicron spreads more easily from person to person when compared to Delta and other variants.  Epidemiologists are conducting studies to determine if the rising number of people testing positive in certain areas of South Africa are due to Omicron or other factors.

Severity of Omicron Infection

It’s not yet known if an Omicron infection will present with more severe symptoms when compared to other COVID-19 variants.  It was initially reported that Omicron infections were associated with mild symptoms.  However, early infections were among college students and people who are younger tend to have milder illness. It will take days to weeks for experts to understand Omicron’s level of severity.

Vaccine Effectiveness

WHO has not yet determined if Omicron will have an impact on our current COVID-19 vaccines, but is working with other partners to find the answer.  WHO emphasizes vaccines remain effective against severe COVID-19 disease and death.

Test Effectiveness

COVID-19 PCR tests have been able to detect Omicron infection.  Studies are ongoing to determine any impact on rapid antigen testing.  However, the FDA reported in a recent media statement that rapid antigen tests used in the U.S. show a “low likelihood of being impacted and continue to work”.

Treatments

Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers remain effective treatments for patients with severe COVID-19.  However, further assessment is needed to determine if other treatments are still effective in treating the Omicron variant.

Virus Protection

The CDC recommends prevention strategies that have proved effective in the prevention of COVID-19 to protect yourself and others from the virus and the Omicron variant.  

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings with substantial to high community transmission.
  • Wash your hands frequently and practice good hand hygiene.
  • Continue to practice social distancing.
  • If age 5 or older, get fully vaccinated and a vaccine booster dose for those who are eligible

Returning From Another Country

The CDC recommends the following for travelers returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi

  • Test for COVID-19 within 3-5 days after arrival
  • Quarantine for 7 days
  • Isolate and test if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms


Let’s Hear From You

What (if anything) is your employer doing differently in response to the Omicron threat?


References / Resources

World Health Organization - Tracking SARS-CoV-2 Variants

World Health Organization - Update on Omicron

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Actively Working to Investigate, Address Potential Impacts of Omicron Variant; Urges Vaccination and Boosters

 

 

Experienced nurse specializing in clinical leadership, staff development and nursing education.

162 Articles   490 Posts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

4 Comment(s)

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 30 years experience. 30,508 Posts

It's now in the US and apparently the person is vaccinated and has mild symptoms.  Many of the people in South Africa are reporting mild symptoms as well.  

Hopefully this is a good sign, especially for the vaccinated.  

Thanks for the information.

RuralMOSchoolRN, ADN, RN

Specializes in ER/School/Rural Nursing/Health Department. Has 16 years experience. 46 Posts

So far it appears to be more easily transmitted but less virulent.  It will be interesting to see what the multiple mutations do for the virus since Omicron has 10+ which is abnormal (Delta had only 3, I believe).

Does anyone know the statistics of how many tests are evaluated for their sequence?  I'm guessing there are more variants out there, they just aren't caught.  

My state is currently seeing mostly Delta. We started a slow uptick in cases the week before Thanksgiving and are now getting 5+ positives per day (I live in a very small county and this is high for us).  

macawake, MSN

Has 14 years experience. 2,078 Posts

3 hours ago, RuralMOSchoolRN said:

I'm guessing there are more variants out there, they just aren't caught. 

There a many more Covid variants than I think most people are aware of. The ones that we often hear about on the news and media in general are the five variants that have been designated VOC/”variants of concern”; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now Omicron. Most people probably aren’t familiar with SARS-CoV-2 Mu, Eta or Iota. But they have been identified and named. 
 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variants_of_SARS-CoV-2
 

3 hours ago, RuralMOSchoolRN said:

So far it appears to be more easily transmitted but less virulent.  It will be interesting to see what the multiple mutations do for the virus since Omicron has 10+ which is abnormal (Delta had only 3, I believe).

I’m hoping that this link works. It shows the identified changes to spike amino acids on the five variants of concern named in my previous paragraph and the two variants currently designated VOI/”variant of interest”; Lambda and Mu.


https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/voc_voi_290921.pdf?sfvrsn=61b3acff_9

RuralMOSchoolRN, ADN, RN

Specializes in ER/School/Rural Nursing/Health Department. Has 16 years experience. 46 Posts

25 minutes ago, macawake said:

 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variants_of_SARS-CoV-2
 

I’m hoping that this link works. It shows the identified changes to spike amino acids on the five variants of concern named in my previous paragraph and the two variants currently designated VOI/”variant of interest”; Lambda and Mu.


Thank you for this! I really enjoy immunology/virology-and seeing how the mutations "change" the virus is interesting to me.  PBS had a 3 episode series on different virus' awhile back and learning how virus' change in order to outsmart our immune system is wild.  One mutation on the right packet of genetic material and the ability to stick tighter to receptor cells is born.  Lots of interesting stuff.