In recent days, public health officials have sounded the alarm over a new variant of the coronavirus that could fuel a global wave of COVID-19 cases with “serious consequences,” according to the World Health Organization.
Named after the Greek letter, the omicron variant is the 13th variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has received a Greek designation according to the World Health Organization classification system for variants of interest or concern. .
As with the other named variants, the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution said the variant has become of concern given its “several mutations that may impact its behavior, such as its ease. spread or severity of the disease. that implies.”
Several others, like Delta, which caused the increase in the number of cases in the United States over the summer, remain listed as worrying or interesting variants and are also named after Greek letters, while others have dropped and are now labeled “watched variants” or “formerly watched variants.”
How the omicron variant got its name
When the variants became of wider concern to the general public, many people referred to them by the name of the country where they were first detected, such as the “UK variant”. But that’s “the wrong way to think,” said Dr Waleed Javaid, professor of infectious diseases and medicine and director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospitals in New York City.
“The virus is going to spread like the virus does. It’s infectious and it infects other people. And it’s not really based on location. It’s based on how infectious it is,” he told USA TODAY.
In May, WHO announced it would use a new system for naming variants to avoid confusion and stigmatize countries where variants are first documented.
Omicron’s scientific name under the Pango system, from the Phylogenetic Assignment of the Global Named Epidemic group, is B.1.1.529, which conveys scientific information about its lineage.
Why we use the Greek alphabet:WHO renames COVID-19 variants with Greek letter names to avoid confusion and stigma
WHO has said the goal of using the Greek alphabet is to make it easier and more practical for non-scientific communities to discuss variants. Javaid said he has found the use of Greek letters helpful in communicating with patients or staff who are not trained to understand the technical aspects of the differences between the variants.
Calling the variants by country name can also create unfair stigma when the variants may not originate from those countries and were only detected there for the first time.
South Africa reported the first case of the omicron variant to the WHO on November 24. Its first known infection was from samples taken on November 9, but Botswana also had samples taken on November 11 with the variant present. As a result, the WHO lists “several countries” for its first documented samples.
How to pronounce micron
Omicron can be pronounced both ä-mə-ˌkrän or ō-ˈmī- (ˌ) krän, according to Merriam-Webster.
How many variants of coronavirus are there?
Although dozens of variations appear and circulate around the world every day, only a dozen before the omicron have reached the level of concern or interest. However, it is impossible to know the total number of all the variants, Javaid said.
To qualify as a ‘variant of concern’, the variant must be associated with an ‘increased transmissibility or a detrimental change in the epidemiology of COVID-19, or an increase in virulence or a change in the clinical presentation of the disease. , or a decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or diagnostics, vaccines, therapies available, ”according to the WHO.
Learn more about omicron:What to know about omicron, the new variant of COVID-19 in South Africa
A “variant of interest” is associated “with genetic modifications which are predicted or known to affect characteristics of the virus such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape and identified for cause significant community transmission or multiple clusters of COVID-19, in several countries with an increasing relative prevalence alongside an increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts suggesting an emerging risk to global public health ” , said the WHO.
There are now five named variants of concern: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and omicron. There are two interesting variations, lambda and mu.
Kappa, iota, and eta are three former variants of interest now classified as watched variants, and epsilon, zeta, and theta are now formerly watched variants.
The “variants under surveillance” present “genetic changes which are suspected to affect the characteristics of the virus with some indications that it may present a future risk, but the evidence for a phenotypic or epidemiological impact is currently unclear. which requires increased surveillance and repeated evaluation pending further evidence, ”Qui says.
“Formerly monitored variants” meet one of the following criteria, according to the WHO: “(1) the variant is no longer circulating at levels of global public health importance, (2) the variant has been circulating for a long time without no impact on the overall epidemiological situation, or (3) scientific evidence shows that the variant is not associated with any properties of concern. “
What does omicron mean in Greek?
Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. It uses the uppercase “Ο” and lowercase “ο” symbols.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, its literal translation into Greek means “little o”.
What happened to the nu and xi variants?
The WHO said it ignored “nu” to avoid confusion and “xi” given its similarity.
“‘Nu’ is too easily confused with ‘new’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common surname,” the WHO added in a statement. His best practices for naming diseases suggest avoiding offending “cultural, social, national, regional, occupational or ethnic groups.”
Contribution: Elizabeth Weise, UNITED STATES TODAY; The Associated Press