(NewsNation Now) — As the omicron variant continues to be detected worldwide, this is not the first time a coronavirus variant has raised alarm bells in the global health community.
But how often do these alarm bells turn into something with global health implications? Here’s what you need to know.
Twenty-seven COVID-19 variants have been tracked by the World Health Organization, but only five of those have been of major concern.
Alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and omicron are the five variants of concern as described by the WHO. A variant of concern means that the variant either has increased transmissibility, increased severity, and/or significant impacts to global health.
So far, the delta variant seemingly has been the only variant to overwhelm global health care systems. In June, delta supplanted other variants as the most dominant strain.
WHO also monitors variants of interest. The WHO’s variants of interest — currently lamba and mu — have been determined to exhibit “genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics,” including transmissibility, immune escape, disease severity or resistance to treatment. If there are changes to the virus that means it looks like it has the potential to do more harm, then it is designated as a variant of concern.
Multiple mutations have been downgraded because they didn’t end up impacting global health systems despite being more transmissible or causing more severe infections.
Variants like epsilon which emerged in the U.S. as significantly transmissible was seen in a few global cases and wasn’t directly linked to more severe illness. Epsilon has now been downgraded to a “formerly monitored variant.”
One of the things that has caused this concern over omicron is it’s seemingly more transmissible. But still so much is unknown about the variant.
Oklahoma State Epidemiologist Jolianne Stone issued the following statement:
“OSDH continuously monitors all COVID-19 variants, including the recently identified Omicron variant, to better assess the current and future state of the pandemic and its potential impact on Oklahomans. At this time, no cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in our state.
Based on what we currently know, the available COVID-19 vaccines continue to be the best tool in preventing cases of severe illness from the virus and emerging variants. We encourage all eligible Oklahomans to get vaccinated and consider getting a booster dose for additional protection.
We are more prepared than ever to respond to emerging variants with many tools and resources available to us, including early detection of COVID-19 variants through genomic sequencing. The OSDH Public Health Lab conducts sequencing as a surveillance tool for identifying variants within the state, and we are prepared to sequence for the Omicron variant. To aid in gauging the impact of COVID-19 in our community, as well as identifying new variants like Omicron early on, we encourage Oklahomans to get tested for COVID-19 if they are feeling sick.
Our team is in communication with national public health experts to stay informed on this new variant and its potential impact in the state. As more information becomes available to us, we will update Oklahomans.”Stone said in a statement.