A new variant of COVID-19 virus detected first in South Africa and designated as a ‘variant of concern’ Omicron’ by the World Health Organization in November 2021 has received wide publicity all over the world in view of the potential damage which it might cause. The virus was shown to have a large number of mutations (32) in the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 of lineage B. 1.1. 529. Fortunately unlike the previous Delta variant which caused wide-spread damage including in India, the clinical manifestations of Omicron infection have been mild in severity. It will also take time to know if the Omicron infection is resistant to the currently available anti-COVID vaccines and if the reinfections and breakthrough infections with Omicron following anti-COVID vaccination can cause more severe illness or death.
Diagnosis of COVID infection is made with standard tests, most importantly with the molecular PCR (RT-PCR) test to obtain the virus’s genetic material from samples obtained by swabbing nose or throat. The patient need not worry about the variant and follow the prescribed treatment of the doctor. The variant can be identified in only the specialized genetic laboratories with the help of gene-sequencing. Identification of the variant is more of a public health issue than a matter of concern for an individual patient.
Management of COVID infection is done irrespective of the variant responsible for the infection. Subtle differences in the protocol are left to be implemented by the health personnel and medical teams. As of today, there is no major reason to get panicky. It is needless to say that we all must continue to follow the general health precautions and preventive measures. Anti-COVID vaccination is the most easily available measure which is highly effective and simple. Other public health measures include the continued use of face covers in the crowded areas, hand-cleaning and social distancing.