The first case of the omicron COVID variant was discovered in California on Wednesday, with a high likelihood of more cases already present.
Dr. Mark Pierce is an infectious disease physician at Cookeville Regional Medical Center. He said that there is not much known about the newest variant.
“The more mutations that it has the less it looks like the original virus,” Pierce said. “So the concern is this one has a lot more mutations. We don’t really know what those mutations mean. Does that mean it’s going to be more infectious, does that mean it’s going to cause more severe disease, does that mean it’s going to be able to escape the immune system?”
Pierce said that the new variant brings concerns for those vaccinated or previously infected with COVID. He said there is still not known whether omicron has mutated enough that it can still cause infection in those people.
Pierce said that a new variant occurs as a result of a virus making copies of itself in your body. He said that as it is creating millions of copies, it also creates copies with mistakes. While some mistakes kill the virus, Pierce said that other times they change its coding and mutate.
“And that virus may look and act just like the original virus so that variant wouldn’t be very important or it might act quite differently and might be more contagious,” Pierce said. “And again a lot of those mutations, there are severe mutations and the virus can’t survive with that particular mutation. So that’s kind of how it happens is you have these viruses producing at high rates and their reproduction doesn’t have that much fidelity, it’s not that perfect. So you get these mistakes and these mistakes confer advantages to some of them.”
Pierce said that even though there are unknowns, the best way to curb the spread of the virus would be to get vaccinated. He said that the more people get vaccinated, the easier it will be to slow the mutations and the variants.