Protect yourself, a new Omicron variant is here

For two years now, health experts have been reminding us not to let our guard down against Covid-19, with some of them saying the coronavirus is here to stay and we should have learned by now to make Covid health protocols a part of our lives. As the virus continues mutating faster than before, with the new variants getting more contagious, the battle seems to be getting tougher.

In a recent report, experts said the highly virulent Omicron variant that devastated many countries—including the Philippines—early this year, has mutated again to form another strain called BA.2.12.1. Virologists said this new variant appears to be more contagious than the original Omicron and therefore needs to be watched carefully.

From the Associated Press: “What do we know about the new Omicron mutant? It’s a descendant of the earlier super-contagious “stealth Omicron” and has quickly gained ground in the United States. The BA.2.12.1 variant was responsible for 29 percent of new Covid-19 infections nationally last week, according to data reported Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it caused 58 percent of reported infections in the New York region. The variant has been detected in at least 13 other countries, but the US has the highest levels of it so far. Scientists say it spreads even faster than stealth Omicron.”

The Department of Health (DOH) has detected on Wednesday the first case of Omicron-BA.2.12 in Baguio City. Through its Center for Health Development in the Cordillera Administrative Region, the DOH surveillance systems detected BA.2.12 in a 52-year-old Finnish female who arrived from Finland on April 2, 2022. She was not required to undergo routine isolation at a quarantine facility since she was fully vaccinated and arrived asymptomatic. (Read, “Omicron subvariant in PHL, DOH confirms,” in the  BusinessMirror, April 28, 2022).

Nine asymptomatic close contacts of the Finnish lady were identified, and two of them tested negative for Covid-19. “Subsequently, the patient has finished her seven-day isolation and has recovered and discharged. The patient returned to her home country on April 21, 2022,” the DOH said, as it assured the public that the country’s surveillance systems are able to detect new cases and characterize their lineage.

Omicron-BA.2.12 is a sub-lineage of the currently circulating Omicron variant in the US that was recently flagged by the US Center for Disease Control following a spike in Covid-19 cases in the US.

The World Health Organization, based on global reports and data, declares whether a new mutation is a variant of interest (VOI) or variant of concern (VOC).

The CDC said a variant is classified as a VOI if it shows “specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.” A VOC is one in which “there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures,” according to the CDC.

Scientists are still studying these Omicron sub-lineages in terms of transmissibility, and if they can cause more severe disease. Preliminary data have shown that their mutations are associated with higher transmissibility. However, there is currently no evidence that these variants can cause more severe disease.

Currently, the Omicron-BA.2.12 is neither classified a variant of interest nor variant of concern by the World Health Organization. But we should remember that this is a new variant that scientists are still studying. With the May 9 elections fast approaching, if we are not careful, there’s a chance that we may see another surge in Covid infections in the country, much like what is currently happening in China. Although our nationwide vaccination coverage is increasing, there is still a need to continue adhering to the public minimum health standards. It pays to remind ourselves that we are not out of the woods yet with regard to this virus.

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