Should 2-state residents be worried about ‘stealth omicron’?

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 4:46 PM EST
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ATLANTA - Experts are trying to calm the waters surrounding the new coronavirus subvariant dubbed “stealth omicron.”

Although its name might conjure up images of stealth bombers, there’s still too little data to say how bad it is.

“We’re getting worried before there’s reason to get worried,” said Dr. Robin Dretler, an infectious disease specialist at Emory Decatur. “We know that it is not different enough from omicron to get its own Greek letter; it’s just a little adjustment on omicron. And there’s really no other data, whether it’s more contagious, whether it’s more or less toxic.”

Stealth omicron has become the more dominant variant in parts of Europe and 96 cases have been detected in the U.S.

The huge infection rates here from the original omicron variant may help against the subvariant.

“Whether already having omicron you’d have immunity, the odds are pretty good though since virtually everyone’s going to have been exposed to omicron, there would be cross immunity,” Dretler said.

Officials say there is a reason it’s harder for current PCR tests to detect it, hence the stealth name.

“The more you mutate away from the PCR we have, the more it’s going to be not picking up,” Dretler said.

One thing the original omicron is good at evading without even mutating is some of the monoclonal antibody treatments that have been developed for COVID-19, the Georgia Department of Public Health pointed out Thursday.

Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic, laboratory-created proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 can mutate over time, resulting in certain treatments not working as effectively against all variants such as omicron. Data shows that Lilly’s bamlanivimab plus etesevimab and Regeneron’s casirivimab plus imdevimab are not effective against the omicron variant.

Omicron currently accounts for about 99 percent of new COVID cases in Georgia.

Oral antivirals from Pfizer and Merck, the remdesivir intravenous antiviral, and sotrovimab are still effective against the omicron variant, the department reported.

From report by WGCL/CBS46 and WRDW/WAGT