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How are local doctors actively tracking COVID-19 variants in the CSRA?

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 4:55 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -The omicron variant has officially been found in the U.S. The first case was detected in California on Dec. 1.

And with more and more cases popping up around the world, scientists are now racing to understand this new variant and just how contagious it may be.

Health officials say there’s cause for concern because this variant has a number of spike proteins that have never been seen before. Those spike proteins are what the virus uses to enter the human body.

Right now, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia are tracking the strains in our area and looking for any omicron cases.

If you’ve taken a COVID-19 test, have you ever wondered where it goes after you spit in the tube? Well, if you test positive at Augusta University Health, they hang onto your sample.

“So this is where we’re getting hundreds if not thousands of samples,” said Dr. Ravindra Kolhe with AU. “The samples come on a daily basis.”

Kolhe studies these samples to figure out what variants are going around our area.

“It looks at each and every sequence of the virus and compares with normal,” Kolhe explains.

The sequencer analyzes the virus particles in the spit before it spits out information about your sample.

“These are the particular changes in the virus which we have captured,” Kolhe said.

With the data from each sample, they can find out what variants people are testing positive for. Kolhe says the most recent results showed almost all delta variant.

Now they’re watching for the omicron variant.

“There are 30 changes in the spike protein,” Kolhe explained. “If you see those 30 changes, that particular strain of the virus will be labeled as omicron.”

While they haven’t found the omicron variant in our area, he thinks it’s extremely important to know what is going around and how the virus is changing.

“There is a chance in the future, not right now, that these changes in the genomes of the virus, they might escape the vaccine,” he said.

That’s why they’re going to keep watching for new changes, and now you know where some of those old tests go.

According to the World Health Organization, omicron is the fifth COVID variant of concern identified.

Scientists say over the next week or two, they’ll know a lot more about it and how it will impact the pandemic.

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