Mutant Omicron .. What do we know about the ghost strain...

The highly contagious mutated Omicron strain of MERS-CoV, the most common form of which is known as the Phantom strain, is now behind nearly all cases of the virus worldwide, although huge jumps in infections have already peaked in some countries.

Scientists have confirmed that the cryptic mutant, which bears the scientific name BA.2 and is one of the three branches of the Omicron viral family, can spread to most parts of the world.

The new strain does not appear to cause more serious illness, and vaccines are effective against it as well, although there are signs of it spreading more easily, according to a report by the New York Times.

For his part, Thomas Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said that “this could mean a rise in the infection rate in places that have not yet peaked, and a slowdown in places that have already seen the Omicron peak.”

Omicron dynasty

Omicron is made up of three distinct branches that scholars have named BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3.

Also, the oldest omicron samples belong to BA.1, while BA.2 was less common. BA.3, which was much rarer, appears to be the product of a viral species.

Common PCR tests usually detect three coronavirus genes. But the tests can identify only two of those genes in BA.1 due to a mutation in the third gene, known as spike.

Moreover, in December 2021, researchers in South Africa found that an increasing number of PCR tests were failing to detect the spike gene – a sign that BA.1 was becoming more common.

Mutant Omicron (Shutterstock)

Mutant Omicron (Shutterstock)

Unlike BA.1, BA.2 lacks the spike mutation, which makes PCR tests fail, causing scientists to call it cryptic.

But BA.2 was not entirely hidden, researchers could still track it down by analyzing the genetic sequences of samples of positive tests.

In recent weeks, BA.2 has become more common in some countries. In Denmark, they make up 65% of new cases, the Statens Serum Institute reported Thursday.

Vaccines are effective against it

Also, researchers there have found that people with BA.2 are no more or less likely to be hospitalized than those with BA.1.

On Friday, the British government released another early analysis of BA.2, finding that the mutant represents only a small percentage of cases there.

However, surveys across England have shown that the mutant grows faster than BA.1 because it is more transmissible.

Reassuringly, the British researchers found that the vaccines were as effective against BA.2 as BA.1.

Increasing injuries

Trevor Bedford, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, found a similar pattern in the United States in viral sequences from recent test samples.

He added that he estimated that about 8% of cases in the United States are BA.2, noting that this number is rising rapidly.

Omicron

Omicron

Nathan Grubow, an epidemiologist at the Yale University School of Public Health, said he was pretty sure the crypto-mutant would become dominant in the United States.

It is noteworthy that BA.1 accounted for 98.8% of the serial cases submitted to the GISAID database as of January 25, globally.

But many countries have reported recent increases in the BA.2 mutant, according to the World Health Organization.

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