In an interview by Eenadu TV recently I mentioned that although Omicron infections go up, its effect on causing serious disease and death is minimal. Now I confidently say that even though it infects the vaccinated people, it is very feeble. This is already seen in US and other European countries. For example, this week the average number of Covid cases in the US is about 600,000 to 700,000 and the average deaths are about 1400-1600. A vast majority of these are due to Covid 19 or Delta variant, not due to Omicron. This translates to about 1 death for 400 to 500 positive cases compared to about 1 death per 50 to 60 infected people in the earlier periods during April-May and during July-August 2021 (See the Table).
Clearly it indicates that most of deaths are due to original Covid-19 and Delta variant and the Omicron does not cause severe disease and death. Since many of the vaccinated people are getting infected with Omicron, it would indicate that the mRNA vaccine induced antibodies are not effective in neutralizing Omicron.
It is also possible that the Omicron’s tropism has changed. Likely, Omicron is infecting upper respiratory cells than deep alveolar epithelial cells. It has been shown that there are as many as 40 to 50 mutations in the Spike protein alone, compared to only 7 to 8 mutations in the Delta variant. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that these mutations altered the virus pathogenicity. In essence Omicron is attenuated.
The cases in India are also increasing but the death rate is drastically reduced (See Table), suggesting that the variant Omicron is weakened, largely due to many mutations in the Spike Protein and elsewhere in the viral genome. This means that Omicron does not cause more than a mild disease, with symptoms like the Human Coronaviruses 229E and OC43, which cause seasonal colds and upper respiratory infection. From these data I conclude that Covid-19 is on its way out. This is due to the vast number of mutations which crippled the virus or attenuated.
No doubt that Omicron is transmitting much faster than Covid-19 or Delta variant. Yet it is causing much milder disease, indicating that in each cycle the infected cells are producing a smaller number of infectious virus and more defective particles. In general, this particular variant has much higher mutation rate, probably due to defective proof reading function of the virus. For example, the exonuclease encoded by the Coronavirus removes any mutated nucleotides that are incorporated into the genome during replication; if this gene is also mutated then the proof reading or editing function is affected resulting in accumulation of mutations. These mutant viruses behave differently than the parent virus and are attenuated.
Cautious note about RT-PCR Tests to detect Omicron:
Since the existing Covid tests do not clearly distinguish Omicron from Delta or Covid 19, is it worth doing these tests anymore? This will add only the number of new cases which are no doubt rising in every country. Under these circumstances it might be prudent to rely on the symptoms rather than the Spot or PCR test. Assume a person is infected with Omicron, virus replicates and in a day or two he or she will be positive for the virus and symptoms appear most likely on 2nd or 3rdday after infection. If the symptoms are mild for another 3 days and subside with running nose and mild cough persisting, then we can safely assume it is not serious. On the other hand, if the patient gets worse with severe cough and experiencing breathing problems, then he or she can be tested and hospitalized, if necessary.
In USA, it appears that many hospitalized patients are kept for a period of 2 to 3 days, unless they need intensive care treatment. Even this also is not on the magnitude with other COVID-19 or Delta variant. If they keep doing these tests naturally the numbers go up enormously, which make people panicked as is happening now. If a specific and sensitive test is developed for Omicron, then we would know that it doesn’t cause any serious disease and therefore, people will feel much better.
Since Omicron does not cause serious illness, people should not get panicked and rush to getting tested.
The tests presently available do not distinguish Omicron from Delta or Covid-19, people should consider getting tested if they are experiencing severe symptoms.
Omicron symptoms are very similar to the symptoms produced by other forms of Coronaviruses, which cause only mild upper respiratory symptoms.
Thanks to Coronavirus imposed masks, the flu cases have significantly reduced in both 2020 and 2021 seasons and the deaths associated with flu also drastically reduced.
About the Prof Ramareddy V Guntaka
Professor Guntaka is Emeritus Professor in Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Biochemistry, University of Tennessee, Health Sciences Center, Memphis, TN, USA and Chairman and Chief Scientist at Sudarshan Biotech Pvt Ltd., India.
• Prof Guntaka was one of the four members team that discovered Proto-oncogenes, genes implicated in causing cancer.
• Prof Guntaka was the first one to molecularly clone the entire genome of Rous Sarcoma Virus
• Prof Guntaka was the key scientist behind the successful development of the Recombinant Hepatitis B Vaccine.by Shantha Biotech
• Prof Guntaka was also the key scientist behind the successful development of interferon alpha used to treat hepatitis B infections.
• Prof Guntaka was also the first scientist to clone and study the complete genome of the Indian strains of Hepatitis C virus
Read more about Prof Guntaka here: http://www.biotechexpressmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Interview-Prof-Ramareddu-V-Guntaka.pdf
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