The first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Los Angeles County, health officials said Thursday.
The fully vaccinated adult returned to LA County after traveling to South Africa via London, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The infected person traveled on November 22.
The person was self-isolating at home and anyone who came into contact with the infected person tested negative.
Officials also said the person was improving without medical attention.
The announcement comes shortly after the detection of the first US case of omicron in San Francisco, in a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive on November 29.
This person was fully vaccinated, but had not yet received a booster, Dr Anthony Fauci said at a December 1 press conference at the White House.
With a number of cases detected in the United States so far – including up to five in New York – and the omicron continuing to spread around the world, here’s what we do and don’t know about the news. variant so far.
What is Omicron?
Omicron is a new variant of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization designated as a âvariant of concernâ on November 26, 2021. The name comes from the letter of the Greek alphabet.
The omicron variant was first detected by scientists in South Africa, where it is believed to be behind a recent spike in cases in Gauteng province.
It is not known where the variant first appeared. After South Africa alerted the WHO to the presence of omicron, the Netherlands said it had seen cases of omicron up to a week earlier. The variant has since been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands, since South Africa alerted the WHO.
Because the variant was announced so recently, we still don’t know how it differs from other forms of COVID-19. Scientists around the world are studying the omicron variant to gather more information.
The variant appears to have a high number of mutations, or genetic changes, on its spike protein, a protein found on the surface of the virus that plays a role in how easily the virus spreads between people.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described the omicron as “the most heavily mutated version of the virus we’ve seen.”
Is Omicron more transmissible?
It is not yet clear whether the omicron variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible. There isn’t a lot of data yet, and the data that does exist has not been fully investigated yet.
However, scientists are concerned that the large number – over 30 – and the type of genetic modifications made to the spike protein will make the omicron more transmissible.
Scientists are closely monitoring how the new variant could affect people who have caught COVID-19 and have recovered.
A group of experts the organization convened to discuss the available data led the WHO to say that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection with this variant”, compared to other variants.
This means that people immune to COVID-19 could catch it again, with the omicron variant.
Sharon Peacock, who led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said that although mutations in omicron match those that would increase transmissibility, “the significance of most mutations is still not known “.
Delta is still, by far, the most dominant form of COVID-19 in the world.
Does Omicron cause more serious illness?
Like the data on transmissibility, we are not yet sure if omicron causes more serious illness than other forms of COVID-19, or if there is an increased risk of death.
There is no indication yet that omicron causes more serious disease.
The first reports from scientists in South Africa, who are already facing a rapid increase in cases, suggest that cases of omicron tend to have mild symptoms.
âWe have seen a sharp increase in cases over the past 10 days. So far, these were mostly very mild cases, with patients showing flu-like symptoms: dry cough, fever, night sweats, a lot of body pain, âsaid Dr Unben Pillay, general practitioner in the department. South African province of Gauteng where 81% of new cases were reported.
Most of these cases were mild enough to be treated at home rather than in hospital. However, Pillay noted that with COVID-19, hospitalizations tend to occur several days after cases have started to increase.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is not yet in the United States, but health officials are urging Americans to get vaccinated and get vaccinated as soon as possible. Toni Guinyard is reporting for Today in LA on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.
So far, most cases of omicron in South Africa have been in relatively young people, in their 20s and 30s, Pillay noted. Older people can see more serious symptoms if they are infected.
And, as has been the case with other forms of COVID-19, vaccinated people seem to fare better than unvaccinated people when it comes to omicron.
How can I protect myself against Omicron?
The same tools used to stop previous versions of COVID-19 will come in handy when it comes to omicron.
Masks indoors, where ventilation tends to be worse and the virus tends to spread more easily if it is present, can help protect yourself from infection or protect others if you are sick and that you haven’t yet realized.
And vaccines are still important. Scientists are studying whether current vaccines are less effective against omicron, which we don’t have enough data to say for sure.
Even if we end up needing an omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine, partial protection against the vaccines we currently have is better than no protection at all.
“There are many reasons to be optimistic that this is not a horrible situation we find ourselves in. Vaccines should be resistant to serious illness, especially in people who are boosted,” Dr Eric Topol , founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told CNBC on Tuesday.
Boosters can also play an important role, reintroducing your body to what the virus looks like, causing your immune system to produce higher levels of antibodies against COVID-19.
All vaccines also stimulate T cells, another part of the immune system’s response to disease, and which is less affected by the differences between COVID variants.
âOur T cells are very unresponsive, unaffected by the variants, to a significant degree,â Topol said.
Ultimately, collecting solid data to make certain claims about the effects of omicron will take time.
âThorough studies take time,â Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said on TODAY. “You have to grow the virus, run the tests, see what’s going on with people. There’s no way to go faster than that.”
In the meantime, President Joe Biden said Monday that “this variation is cause for concern, not cause for panic.”