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Omikron is also a great puzzle for explorers

Omikron is also a great puzzle for explorers

Scientists are looking into the properties of the omicron . variable

The critical question is to what extent current vaccines protect against the new variant virus.


Omicron cases are exploding in South Africa, and the number is increasing elsewhere as well. Researchers are baffling about how dangerous the mutation was — and how it emerged.

Experts largely agree that Variable Omicron It should not be as fresh as initially expected. “According to the current state of knowledge, an early form of Omicron evolved as its type of virus even before the appearance of alpha and delta,” Wolfgang Preiser of Stellenbosch University near Cape Town told DPA. He is a member of the research consortium that discovered the alternative.

Forerunner is already registered in the middle of 2020

While the first evidence of alpha and delta comes from the fourth quarter of 2020, the next call from Omikron already exists for virus variants discovered in mid-2020. Spiegel reports Referring to data from Nextstrain database, where experts enter virus sequencing results.

Preiser hypothesizes that the virus type likely evolved over several months without initially attracting attention. For him, the questions arise: «Why has Omikron been hidden for so long and only started now? Are there still one or two mutations missing to be able to spread quickly? As the epidemiologist Richard Nir of the University of Basel was surprised In “NZZ am Sonntag”That mutant “appeared out of nowhere”.

The researchers see three possibilities as to why the variant has remained undetected for so long.

Developed in an animal or chronically ill?

One possibility is that Omikron jumped into animals, evolved further here, and then passed on to humans again, virologist Briser suspects.

An analogue of the coronavirus between humans and mink has already been demonstrated several times in Denmark, confirms virologist Friedmann Weber of Justus Liebig-Giesen from “NZZ am Sonntag”. Also of note with Omikron is that the variant contains all seven mutations known to facilitate rodent infestation, the paper writes.

Researchers in the Biosafety Laboratory at the Center for Translational Medicine and Entrepreneurship in Bern are working with the coronavirus. (Archives)

Photo: Keystone

The virus would initially have continued to evolve in a poorly controlled area for a long time until it was finally detected in a person for the first time in South Africa. Frankfurt virologist Sandra Cesek said she doesn’t necessarily think this species originated in South Africa woman”.

“It is more likely that it comes from an area that is less sequential and simply invisible,” Sisik suggests. Numerous mutations in the variant will also speak of this. “Something like this doesn’t happen in a few days, it happens gradually.”

Finally, experts also consider it possible to visualize the development of Omikron in a patient with chronic Covid-19. According to Preiser, this is possible in a patient with HIV or any other form of immunodeficiency.

According to this, the virus can multiply over several months in people with weakened immune systems and change little by little without stopping the immune system completely. “This is a speculative thesis and it has not been proven,” explains the virologist.

Many children under the age of five are particularly affected

At the moment, not only the question of the origin of the Omikron variant is questionable. It is still not clear how vaccinations against Omikron work. There are currently too many sudden infections in people vaccinated with Omikron in South Africa. But it is unclear whether this is due to the special properties of the variant.”

It is also conceivable that external conditions play a role. For example, health care workers who are most affected by the decline in protection due to early vaccination, among other things, often become infected.

As Ramphelane Morewane of the South African Department of Health emphasized last weekend, at the same time as the emergence of Omikron, an increase in hospitalizations for children under five could be seen.

The incidence rate of young children in South Africa is now the second highest after the 60-plus age group. The researchers and representatives of the health authorities also announced that it is still not clear whether there is a relationship between the number of infections in the age groups and the variable.

According to the European Union health authority ECDC, Omikron could be the dominant alternative in Europe in just a few months. The agency recently noted that while there are still a number of uncertainties about transmissibility, disease severity, and potential immunologic effects. However, preliminary data indicated that Omikron has a clear advantage over the delta variant. The World Health Organization classifies Omikron as “of concern”.

With materials from dpa news agency