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Omicron: the last variant to fear?

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Hakim Djaballah

In the 16th century, the French writer Michel de Montaigne wrote: "The thing of which I have most fear is fear"; which has been interpreted as "The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear, that passion alone, in the trouble of it, exceeding all other accidents."

SARS-CoV-2 was allowed to propagate everywhere. It was allowed it to do what viruses do best, random and uncorrected mutations resulting in their adaptive survival. This virus is in search of its new home and will not stop until it finds it. The lack of equitable access and distribution of vaccines continues to promote viral propagation resulting in the continuous appearance of new variants.

Thus far, we have recorded at least three dozen variants with considerable changes when compared to the "alleged" Wuhan original strain. Without a confirmatory sequencing data on the virus obtained from patient zero in China, we are left with no strong reference as a base to monitor viral evolution as it continues to propagate all over the world, either through human travel or via migratory birds.

Many of these variants were identified in healthy people meaning that at a best estimate, we would see some controlled mutagenesis as the immune system will be activated and limit accumulation of mutants. Our immune surveillance will keep the mutation frequency at its lowest level.

However, in the case of immuno-compromised people, such as those infected with either or both the HIV virus and the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, their immune system is not working with total absence of immuno-surveillance; thus, allowing all the possible combinations of pro-survival mutations to occur reaching a cumulative viral load, which will make them sick and even kill them.

The evolutionary pressure on viruses tends to focus on the regions involved in cellular attachment and entry, allowing the virus to replicate and make more copies. Some mutations are deadly and inadvertently kill the mutated virus; others are neutral with no consequence on the virus, while some tend to enhance the infectivity of the virus causing the infected cell to make more of this mutated form of the virus.

With time,........

© The Korea Times

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