The new variant of the coronavirus seems to be more infectious and eludes the immune system’s response than the previous mutations, says professor Agnieszka Szuster-Ciesielska from the Department of Virology and Immunology at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. In her opinion, “it’s only a matter of time” before the new variant appears in Poland. It also points to “three essential questions that need to be answered quickly”.
A new variant of the coronavirus, detected in South African countries, is spreading in Europe and the world. Omicron has been identified in over a dozen countries around the world, including several European countries.
– The number of mutations causes the omicron to be called a super-variant. It has 50 mutations, 32 of which concern the S spike protein itself, and 10 include changes in the site of direct recognition of the human cell receptor by the coronavirus spike – explains professor Agnieszka Szuster-Ciesielska from the Department of Virology and Immunology at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin in an interview with the Polish Press Agency . As he adds, all this means that the new variant may be “so different from the earlier versions (of the virus – ed.) That it will be less recognized by cytotoxic cells and antibodies that arose after infections with earlier variants, but also after vaccination”.
The professor points out “three basic questions that need to be answered quickly”. “Is this variant more transmissive, more infectious, and is it capable of bypassing our defenses after vaccination and infection with earlier variants,” he says.
In her opinion, “it’s only a matter of time” before the new variant appears in Poland. – All those people who have been identified with the omicron have recently been to Africa and probably brought it from there – adds the virologist.
The World Health Organization, at an urgent meeting on Friday, immediately classified the omicron as a “disturbing” variant. As noted by prof. Szuster-Ciesielska, “this is the fifth variant, after alpha, beta, gamma and delta, which deserves such a name”. – Now the whole scientific world will be watching him closely, studying him, because so far little is known about him. We have oral reports by various scientists that it appears to be more infectious, up to 500 times, and eludes immune system responses than previous mutations. But that requires research in larger groups. However, what is worrying and confirms its high infectivity is the fact that in southern Africa, where it started, the omicron is already beginning to displace the Delta variant, says the virologist.
– The first information from African doctors was also published yesterday – the symptoms of the disease are relatively mild. There is also no loss of smell and taste characteristic of earlier versions of the virus. This, however, still needs to be confirmed – he adds.
The new variant of the coronivirus – how was it created?
As Professor Szuster Ciesielska explains, according to one hypothesis, the omicron “could have arisen in a person infected with coronavirus, who, due to a weakened immune system, could not eliminate it”. This gave the virus ample time to change to avoid the host’s defensive responses. As you know, there are many people in South Africa who are infected with HIV, which weakens immunity. Perhaps it was in such a person that the virus could have survived longer – he points out. – Anyway, a similar hypothesis has been confirmed in the past with the beta variant that was developed in the UK in a woman who had been carrying the coronavirus for many months. This is what gave the virus time to change, adds the virologist. When asked how quickly this variant could dominate Europe, prof. noted that “the international community reacted swiftly”. – Flights to and from Africa have already been suspended, and tourist traffic has been drastically reduced. (…) Of course, it is not known whether all persons infected with the micron can be caught. We remember that this pandemic started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, also very far from us, but nevertheless this original variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread rapidly, the expert notes.
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