‘Stealth’ version of Omicron evokes fear in people

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‘Stealth’ version of Omicron evokes fear in people

Healthcare officials and the scientific community all over the world are keenly watching out for the descendant of the Omicron variant that has been found in around 40 countries of the world including the United States of America. The Omicron variant has been classified as the variant of concern by the World Health Organisation but the BA.2 has not got a designation of its own.

The descendant of Omicron is called BA.2 by scientists and is widely considered stealthier than the Omicron as particular genetic traits in the latest version have made it very difficult to be detected. Some scientists believe that the stealthier version will also be more contagious than the original version of the Omicron variant. There is a lot that is still unknown about it including if the variant is capable of evading the vaccines better or if it will lead to causing more severe disease among people. 

The BA.2 version has so far spread to around three dozen countries till now. 15,000 genetic sequences of the latest version from around 40 countries have been uploaded to GISAID which is a global platform to share the Coronavirus data. The data as of Tuesday morning showed that 96 of the sequenced cases belonged to the United States.

In a statement regarding the same, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas has said that the version has not started to gain ground in the United States so far. The stealthier version seems to be much more commonly found in Asia Europe. In Denmark, 45 per cent of all Coronavirus cases were found to be BA.2 version in mid-January increasing by 20 per cent from 2 weeks earlier as per the data by Statens Serum Institue. 

Version BA.2 has a lot of mutations. Around 20 of these mutations are seen in the spike protein that is spotted outside of the virus are shared with the original Omicron variant. The BA.2 also has other genetic changes that were not seen in the initial version.

Dr Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School said that The significance of these mutations is still not clear especially in a population that has encountered the original variant. As of now, the BA.1 and the BA.2 are being considered as the subsets of the original Omicron variant of Coronavirus. The newer versions could get their Greek letter names if they get deemed as variants of concern by the WHO. 

There have been some indications that these versions are just as or perhaps more contagious than the original variant of Omicron. There has not been much difference when it comes to hospitalisations for BA.2 compared to the original variant in Denmark. 

The scientists in Denmark are working out the details of this version’s infectiousness and the effectiveness of the current vaccines against it. It is not clear yet if someone who got infected with the Omicron can contract the BA.2 as well but the scientists are hopeful that a prior Omicron infection might result in a less severity of disease if they contract the BA.2 later on. Tests will be conducted to see if the antibodies formed from an infection with the original Omicron can neutralise BA.2 in the labs and then decide further from there.

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