(NEXSTAR) – There’s still a lot we don’t know about the omicron variant of COVID-19, which is starting to spread around the world and has been detected multiple times here in the US. can cause different symptoms – but it is too early to draw broad conclusions. It is also unclear whether it is better at evading vaccine protection than previous variants.
But there’s one thing we keep hearing from scientists who’ve been scrutinizing the omicron version of the virus: It’s actually mutated.
“This is probably the most mutated virus we have ever seen,” said Alex Sigal CBS News. Sigal leads a team of researchers who are working to learn more about omicrons.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described the omicron as “the most mutated version of the virus we’ve ever seen”, including disturbing changes never before seen in the same virus.
More mutations also don’t necessarily make the virus more dangerous. “In principle, mutants can also act against each other,” Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist in Seattle, told the New York Times.
But viruses, like other organisms, evolve over time to increase their chances of survival. Of course, a stronger virus is generally bad news for us humans. That’s why scientists were initially concerned when they saw a highly mutated virus.
Of the many mutations in the omicron, about 30 are located on a part of the virus called the mutant protein. That worries scientists because it could affect the variant’s ability to transmit.
Sharon Peacock, who has led genome sequencing of COVID-19 in the UK at the University of Cambridge, said the data to date shows that the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility”. , but says that “the significance of many mutations is unknown.”
But closely watched scientists also found that the omicron lacks some of the mutations that delta has that make it so contagious. It’s likely that the delta variant, the dominant strain in the United States, is still more infectious than omicrons, so omicrons may never take off.
“That’s really a big question. You know, when it joins a population with Delta, does it pass competition or not? ” Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University, told CNN.
In addition to mutations that make omicrons more contagious, scientists are also looking at any mutations that could cause more severe disease or make it easier to evade vaccines.
There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicrons differ from those of other variants. It said there is no evidence yet – that COVID vaccines, tests and treatments are less effective against omicrons.
Some experts say that all of the omicron mutations could mean that vaccine manufacturers may have to adjust their products at some point. That remains to be seen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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