USD medical professor discusses Omicron variant

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 11:21 PM CST
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VERMILLION, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Scientists are saying the Omicron variant is spreading faster in South Africa than any other variant. Omicron has been found in at least 6 states in the U.S. already.

Mutations are fairly common in diseases, like influenza, where a new variant is found every year. But with how new the COVID-19 virus is health experts are still concerned.

When a virus infects someone it mutates along the way and will acquire one of 3 characteristics.

“Something that either increases the disease that it causes, increases its ability to transmute from person to person, or increases the ability to escape the host immune response,” said Dr. Victor Huber, University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine Associate Professor.

What’s troubling about the Omicron Variant is the sheer number of mutations.

“The Omicron has a lot of mutations in the dominant spike protein and that’s what really triggered the alarm in the community right now,” said Huber. “Because we haven’t seen that many sorts of mutations pop up at once in that single protein that’s really important for immunity.”

The Omicron variant develops the ability to more easily attach itself to other cells in the body which can make it more potent.

“We’re seeing increased transmissibility, the potential to escape some of that immunity, but what’s fortunate in what we’re seeing right now is it’s not causing a really severe disease,” said Huber.

More often than not, while Omicron hangs on longer than other Covid variants, it does not appear its symptoms are typically more severe.

“If it can hide out a little bit longer, cause less severe disease, then that is an advantage,” said Huber. “It all depends on what mutations the virus acquires as it moves through the community.”

While we’ve already seen several Covid variants emerge, Huber says there are likely more mutations on the horizon.

“The virus right now I think the best plan is to plan for there to be more and be happy when there’s fewer,” said Huber.

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