What we know about the Omicron variant

With so many things about the Omicron variant still uncertain, I’m happy to find a bit of (apparently) solid news about it: five key symptoms. 

They’re not the same as the earlier variants’ symptoms. They’re extreme tiredness, night sweats, a scratchy (as opposed to sore) throat, a dry cough, and mild muscle aches. Officially, though, UK government websites are sticking to the old three: a high fever, a new continuous cough, and changes to your sense of taste or smell. 

So is Omicron milder? Possibly. Hopefully. The World Health Organization–a.k.a. WHO–thinks it is. Probably.

But what the hell, we don’t know yet, and Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, said it “poses a real threat.” He’s not convinced that it’s milder. With Covid, severe disease waddles in a couple of weeks behind infection, and South African reports that it’s mild may have to do with specific conditions there.

Burton says Omicron and Delta are likely to circulate together for some time. So if you’re reaching for your seatbelt buckle, thinking you could unsnap the beast because you won’t be needing it, you might want to wait a while. Nothing’s certain yet.

 

Irrelevant photo: Flowers from last summer’s village produce stall.

Could somebody give us a bit of good news, please?

Well, yes, although it’s not ready for use yet. Scientists at Aarhus University (that’s in Denmark, and I had to look it up too) have discovered a molecule that covers the nasty little spikes on the Covid virus, which then keeps it from entering human cells, spreading infection, and throwing those loud and drunken parties that have made the last couple of years so difficult for us all.

It’s not a vaccine but it uses some of the same building blocks that the mRNA vaccines do. No, don’t ask me. Just nod and look wise and someone will think you know what that means. 

One of the implications of this is that it’ll be cheaper and easier to make than the antibody treatments that are now used to fight the most serious Covid cases. 

It can also be used to detect the virus. And make coffee.

No idea. Just nod and look wise.

It’s done well on detecting the Delta variant, but it’s too early to have data on how it does with the Omicron.

*

It sounds like a new antiviral drug is in the pipeline, although it also sounds like it’s in the early stages. The article I got this from–let’s say the language could stand to be more considerate to your average blogging idiot. I think we’re talking about a pill–the article says it’s “orally available,” but then, so’s my tongue–and (unlike my tongue) it would only need to be taken once a day. 

Other information? It works against Covid and other respiratory RNA viruses–at least in animal models. It’s not coming off the assembly line yet, but it’s something to keep our eye on.

If it comes through, it will join the Pfizer and Merck antivirals that are a few steps ahead, approved in some places, and seeking approval in others. They can be used to treat mild to moderate Covid and keep it from progressing–or, basically, from killing you. Or landing you in the hospital. 

 

Spotting Omicron

Different countries use different tests for Covid, and one of them happens to be good at spotting the Omicron variant. Among other things, that means that information about the variant will be coming in at different rates from different countries.

 

Going beyond neutralizing antibodies

Early studies of the new variant have reported on how well prepared our neutralizing antibodies are to win a debate with it, and neutralizing antibodies are the focus because they’re easy to measure, but they’re not the only tool our immune systems have on hand. When it loses a debate, it can always fall back on a different, time-tested tactic: throwing chairs.

Okay, very small, metaphorical chairs. 

The body’s second line of defense is made up of binding antibodies, T cells, and memory B cells. They’ve got short tempers and long memories, and when they’re not actively fighting Covid they lift weights and make threatening noises. 

When they’re working, though, they target a different part of the virus than the neutralizing antibodies do–and in the Omicron variant it’s not as heavily mutated a part. 

So if you’ve had a booster shot, you’re not totally unprepared to fight this thing. This is, admittedly, early news, and more studies are needed before we’ll know how well they aim those chairs. 

 

Spreading Covid in the House of Commons

As Britain’s Conservative Party shakes itself apart over how to respond to the new variant, we’re being treated to scenes that make the House of Commons look like a Rubens painting. 

In case you’re lucky enough to have missed Rubens, he liked to paint his people in piles, sometimes adding an unexplained cow to the mob. (Apologies: The link won’t take you to the painting with the cow. I swear I saw it one–it’s not something my imagination’s capable of coming up with–but I reached my limit before I found it.)

Why is that a good parallel to the House of Commons? Earlier in the pandemic, MPs were allowed to basically phone in, working from home and voting safely from a distance. I don’t know if they were able to debate from home, but then no one listens to anyone else anyway, so what did it matter?

Cynical? Not me.

That ended, in spite of protests, and MPs now have to gather in absurdly small rooms to vote. As an MP from the Scottish National Party put it, “The only way to pass regulations to try and get Omicron Covid back under control will be for about 400 people to pack into a room big enough for 100 to record their votes.

“They’ll do this up to four times in succession. In between, they won’t be able to go too far so will pack out the lobbies at either end of the chamber waiting for the next vote to be called.

“Several MPs have tested positive for Covid in the last few days so there’s a very high probability that others are carrying the virus but have not yet shown symptoms or given a positive test. What could possibly go wrong?”

38 thoughts on “What we know about the Omicron variant

  1. We expect our armed forces to stand in dangers way, we expect our health works to report for duty and our emergency workers to respond. It seems a small ask that our MPs turn up for work?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some jobs can be done from a distance and some can’t. Theirs can. I take exception to those whose second (and highly lucrative) jobs either take precedence or present a conflict of interest, but as long as they’re doing the work I see no reason why they should risk lives–not just theirs–by overcrowding poorly ventilated places. For a while they had a hybrid system that allowed particularly vulnerable MPs to vote cast their votes from outside parliament. It made a hell of a lot of sense.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It both is and isn’t. I get a small handful of e-news bulletins that summarize medical and scientific studies, news, and breakthroughs. As sources, for the most part I trust them, although one includes the occasional article that doesn’t quite hold water. Nothing that’s leaking lunacy all over the place, just that seem a bit slanted. I skip those when I spot them and when I’ve quoted one or two readers have pointed out the problems, which I appreciate.

      On the other hand, so much is unknown, especially about Omicron right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s been news over here about a pill that treats Covid once you have it. https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/9-things-to-know-about-covid-pill
    (I don’t know if this link will help – it just seems the most sensible of those Lord Google gave me)

    (“Neutralizing Antibodies” sounds like a rock band.)

    Over here our pro sports teams – hockey, football and basketball – are taking a terrible hit despite the fact that they have all been thoroughly vaccinated.Games cancelled right and left (in colleges and high schools too) so there is quite a stir about breakthrough infections.

    The news that is filtering through to us about your PM sounds – um – discouraging. Well, from the point of view of concerned citizens of the UK.

    I can only imagine how excited The Scottish National Party is to be closely confined in a small unventilated room with other MPs. Sounds like another vote for secession.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not much I can add to that, except that I believe two pills are already in use or close to it. They’re said to cut the chances of hospitalization significantly. Fingers crossed. It does sound like they’ll make a huge difference. As for the PM, I keep thinking I should write about the avalanche of sleaze, but it changes so fast that by the time I post anything it’d be out of date. I have to say, I’m enjoying seeing heavy objects fall on his head, although whoever the Conservatives eventually replace him with may well be worse. For the moment, though, it’s fun to watch the chickens come home to roost.

      Like

  3. I wish you’d do Slovenia next. It needs to be told so badly what is what. Yesterday I heard that 15 Italian doctors that had come to Slovenia to help with the Covid cases were turned away because their paperwork was not in order. I mean. :(

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, good lord. That’s insane. And so damn typical of the way these things work. Britain was doing the same thing pre-pandemic to people it desperately needed in the National Health Service but they fell afoul of the immigration system and what really matters, after all? Being nasty to immigrants, that’s what.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I keep reading accounts (on twitter) of people who went to some family/work meal/gathering and despite them testing negative before the event (and being double jabbed and boosted) almost all of them come down with omicron. I am wondering how easily it spread outside these sorts hospitality situations?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Another year, another few bonsai pictures | Wibble

  6. (Coming to you from Newark-on-Trent) Since the only things I’ve been doing since Thanksgiving when the Omicron news broke is eating, sleeping, and googling Omicron news, I’m getting a little weary of the “it’s too soon to tell” line. Since they’ve reported that the first Omicron cases in the UK probably started in early November, they’ve had a good six or seven weeks to see if death and destruction really do follow infection. Planning for this trip has been exhausting. When we get back to the States, I’m going to need two weeks either on a tropical island or in a sensory deprivation tank to recover from the stress of it all. In the end, I will probably just stop watching the news for a while. Anyway, have a very merry Christmas down south!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You traveled? You are bold.

      Today’s news sounds–still very tentatively–like Omicron’s milder but could still easily overwhelm health systems, since it’s more transmissible and a small percentage of a large number is still a lot of people. The problem in figuring out the damage this beast does is that so many other factors have to be taken into account. South Africa, which has the longest documented history with it, has a young population. In the UK, I believe it’s been circulating most among younger people–older people are being more careful. So what impact will it have on older populations? On unvaccinated people? On parrots? On how quickly bread rises?

      And so on until doomsday. On the other hand, have a great trip–and a good rest afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is milder, thank god, which again doesn’t mean it can’t have a lethal outcome.
    And why are the government in the UK so slow? None of the people I know you recently got infected had a fever, or cough, but more of a mild cold symptoms -tiredness, muscle aches, a congested nose and alike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The UK government’s slow because it’s screamingly incompetent. And the medical services are suffering from years of underfunding.

      I think everyone’s been hesitant to say decisively that Omicron’s milder because so far it’s mostly been younger people who had it. In the UK, at least, it’s working its way up the age tables and it’s not clear how older unvaccinated people will fare. So everyone’s leaving themselves a bit of wiggle room–justifiably.

      Liked by 1 person

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