Global Health Officials Express Concerns about COVID-19 Omicron Variant

Global Health Officials Express Concerns about COVID-19 Omicron Variant

What medical professionals and scientists know about the Omicron variant is now shared with the public.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and  named it ”Omicron.” WHO officials said this decision is based on evidence that the Omicron variant has multiple mutations that could have an impact on how easily it spreads and the severity of illness it causes.

Here’s what they know so far:

  1. It’s “not yet clear” whether Omicron is more infectious compared with other variants, including Delta.
  2. There’s also no firm evidence that Omicron causes more severe disease compared with other variants.

However, officials note that preliminary evidence suggests “there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron as compared to other variants of concern,” but that data is still limited.

Sharon Peacock, PhD, who led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, told the Associated Press that data suggests Omicron has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility” but added “the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.”

The CDC says it is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in the country. It is expected that Omicron will be identified quickly if it emerges in the U.S.

CDC recommends people continue to follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently and physically distancing from others. It is also recommended that everyone five years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated. CDC encourages a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for those who are eligible. Travelers to the U.S. should continue to follow CDC recommendations for traveling.

About the Author

Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

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