Scientists warn that a new coronavirus variant, dubbed Omicron, has the makings of a “super-contagious” virus. Here’s a quick look at how we got here, and how the new variant name came about.
Previous viral outbreaks in history ended up being called after the country where they were first detected – for example, the “Spanish flu”It decimated the entire world after the First World War, which took place a century ago. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, has tried to avoid labeling the virus since the beginning of this current pandemic. The virus itself was designated SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-2), and the disease it causes became coronavirus disease 2019, or Covid-19.
The virus evolved, and new strains of viruses emerged. They were named after the countries in which they were first detected. This led to the reports about the “South African variant”Or the “Indian strain.”The WHO took action at May 2021 and introduced a system that was based on the Greek alphabet.
It was intended to create variant names. “simple [and] easy to say and remember.”The WHO also stated that variants should not be called by the place of detection. “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”While health professionals continue to refer variants to their scientific names, we all get to deal now with Omicron, Delta and Alpha.
WHO has split the virus strains into three types: Variants in Concern (VOC), Variants that are of Interest (VOI) and Variants under Monitoring. Only the top two groups get Greek names. Five VOCs have been identified and two VOIs were created (Lambda, Mu) and the remainder are considered VUMs. This distinction is from what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorization (CDC), which listed only Delta as a VOC and the rest VUMs.
Alpha, the original mutation
Dec 2020 saw the identification of the first virus mutation. The virus was later named Alpha (B.1.1.7). It was first detected in the UK in December 2020. Although it is 40-80% more transmittable than the original virus but causes no increase in mortality,
Although the Beta strain (B.1.351), was first detected in South African samples as early as May 2020 and officially identified by WHO six months later as Alpha, Three mutations occur in the spike area, making it 20 to 30% more transmissible.
Gamma: Deadlier still
Gamma (P.1) is a Gamma variation that was first discovered in Brazil, in November 2020. The spike protein contains 10 amino acid substitutions and the other three are believed to be of concern. This variant was identified as a virus in January 2021. The original virus is up to 38% less transmissible, but it can be 50% more deadly.
Alert Red for Delta
The variant B.1.617.2, also known as Delta was discovered for the first time in India. This virus was identified as the most dangerous strain until recent times. This strain is capable of causing up to 17 different mutations (sub-lineages included) and 97% more deaths.
Omicron: A new fear
Omicron or B.1.1.529 is the variant that has been identified. It contains 32 mutations in spike protein. This raises concerns about it becoming resistant to vaccines. Although less than 100 cases of the disease have been identified, it is believed to be spreading from southern Africa’s initial source to Europe.
Given that Omicron was the next letter in the Greek alphabet to be used for variant designations, it wasn’t clear why.