On November 24, 2021, South Africa reported the identification of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, B.1.1.529, to the World Health Organization (WHO). B.1.1.529 was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, 2021 in Botswana and on November 14, 2021 in South Africa. South Africa has since detected B.1.1.529 in specimens collected on November 8, 2021.
On November 26, 2021, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) convened to assess B.1.1.529. The TAG-VE advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a Variant of Concern (VOC), and WHO designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC named Omicron.
While is too early about attributes of the new variant, some anecdotal evidence indicate the virus is primarily causing mild disease.
The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) reported today an overall total of 167 confirmed cases in 17 countries and note: All cases for which there is available information on severity were either asymptomatic or mild. No deaths have been reported among these cases so far.
Officials stipulate that this should be assessed with caution as the number of confirmed cases is too low to understand if the disease clinical spectrum of Omicron differs from that of previously detected variants.
The CDC reports: Currently, it is unclear if infection with the Omicron variant is associated with more severe disease. Due to the small number of cases attributed to the Omicron variant, assessment of disease severity is difficult. Preliminary information from South Africa indicates that there are no unusual symptoms associated with Omicron variant infection, and as with other variants, some patients are asymptomatic.
In other stories from physicians in South Africa, while there is a significant spike in cases, the cases have been mild. Richard Friedland, the chief executive of Netcare, which operates the largest private health care network in South Africa, said if the country had experienced this level of cases in the second or third wave, “we would have seen very significant increases in hospital admissions, and we’re not seeing that.
Anthony Smith, a doctor in Cape Town, told Bloomberg, “They are from a younger demographic and presenting with milder symptoms, mainly sore throats and respiratory phenomenon. But even in older people, it’s been relatively mild.”
Here in the US, Omicron has been reported in more than a dozen states and to date there has been no reported deaths.
As I said, it’s early and there is much to learn. However, this early anecdotal evidence shows some reason to be optimistic.