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.
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.
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?”