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Is Omicron more contagious than Delta? A virus expert explains what we know so far

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AN new variant called Omicron (B.1.1.529) was reported by researchers in South Africa on November 24, 2021 and referred to as a “variant” of care” By the World Health Organisation two days later. Omicron is very unusual in that it is by far the most mutated variant to date of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Omicron variant has in total 50 mutations, with 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. The spike protein – which forms protruding buds on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – helps the virus attach to cells so it can gain entry. It is also the protein that all three vaccines currently available in The United States use protective arousal antibodies.

In comparison: the Delta variant has nine mutations. The greater number of mutations in the Omicron variant could mean it could be more transferable and/of better in evading immune protection – a prospect that is very worrying.

I am a virologist who studies emerging and zoonotic viruses to understand better how new epidemic of pandemic viruses to appear. Mine research group has studied various aspects of the COVID-19 virus, including its spread to animals.

why do new SARS-CoV-2 variants keep popping up?

While the unusually high number of mutations in the Omicron variant is surprising, the emergence of yet another SARS-CoV-2 variant is not unexpected.

by course selection, random accumulate mutations in any virus. This process is accelerated up in RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. If and when a set of mutations provide a survival advantage for a variant over its predecessors, the variant will out-compete all other existing virus variants.

Does the larger number of the Omicron variant have? of mutations mean it is more dangerous and transferable than Delta? We just don’t do it know yet. The circumstances die led to the emergence of the variant not yet clear, but what is? clear is that the shear number and configuration? of mutations in Omicron is unusual.

An possible explanation for how viral variants with multiple mutations arising from long-term infection in An patient whose immune system is suppressed – a situation die can lead until rapid viral evolution.

Researchers have hypothesized that some of the earlier SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as the Alpha variant, may have originated of a persistently infected patient. The unusual constellation and numerous mutations in the Omicron variant makes it very different from all other SARS-CoV-2 strains, which raises questions over: how it came about.

Another possible source of variants can via are animal hosts. The virus that causes COVID-19 can infect different animal speciesincluding minks, tigers, lions, cats and dogs.

In a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, international team that I lead recently reported widespread infection by SARS-CoV-2 in free-living and in captive white-tailed deer in The United States. therefore, we also can not rule out the possibility that the Omicron variant has arisen in an animal host by rapid evolution.

How the Delta variant became globally dominant

Delta is between 40 and 60 percent more transferable than the Alpha variant and almost twice as transferable as the original SARS-CoV-2 virus first identified in China. The Delta variants increased portability is the primary reason why researchers believe it in was able to out-compete other variants to become the dominant species.

AN key factor in viral fitness is its replication? rate – of how can quickly create a virus more copies of yourself. The Delta variant replicates faster than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, and a yet unpeer-reviewed study estimated that it 1,000 times more virus particles than its predecessors.

In addition, people infected with the Delta variant makes and sheds more virus, that’s another one potential mechanism for it has increased ability to spread.

Research suggests that a possible explanation for the Delta variant has been increased ability to replicate is that mutations in the spike egg white led to more efficient bonding of the spike protein to its host, via the ACE-2 receptor.

The Delta variant has also acquired mutations die allow it on evade neutralizing antibodies die serve as critical role in the body’s defense against an invading virus. This could explain why, like multiple reports have shown, the COVID-19 vaccines are somewhat less effective against the Delta variant.

this combination of high transmissibility and immune evasion can: help explain how the Delta variant became so successful.

studies also show Which people infected with the Delta variant have a higher risk of in be hospitalized in comparison met the ones die be infected with the original SARS-CoV-2 and early variants.

A certain mutation on the spike egg white of the Delta variant – the P681R mutation – is thought it was a key contributor to his improved ability to enter cells and to cause more severe disease.

Will Omicron Replace Delta?

It’s too early to say of the Omicron variant is fitter than Delta of will become dominant. Omicron shares some mutations with but the Delta variant also owns others die be very different.

But one of the reasons why we in the research community are special concerned is that the Omicron variant has 10 mutations in the receptor binding domain – the part of the spike protein that interacts with the ACE-2 receptor and mediates cell entry – compared with just two for the Delta variant.

Suppose the combination of all mutations in Omicron makes it too more transferable of better in immune evasion than Delta. In that case we could see the spread of this variety worldwide. whatever it is also possible that the unusually high number of mutations can harm the virus and make it unstable.

It is very likely that the Omicron variant is not the endgame and that more SARS-CoV-2 variants will appear. if SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread among humans, naturally selection and adjustment will result in more variants die could be plausible more transferable than Delta.

We know of flu viruses die the process of viral adaptation never ends.

Lower vaccination rate in many countries means there are still many of sensitive hosts out there for the virus, and that it will continue to circulate and mutate as long as it can spread.

The emergence of the Omicron variant is yet another reminder of the urgency to vaccinate to stop further spread and evolution of SARS-CoV-2.

Suresh V. Kuchipudi, Professor of emerging infectious diseases, Penn State.

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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