Bulgarian Dr. Argirova: Mutations occur in People who do not have Antibodies to COVID-19
What do we know about the new SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant identified by the WHO as "alarming"? The answers are given by the President of the Bulgarian Society of Medical Virology and a member of the Expert Council of Virology under the Minister of Health - Prof. Dr. Radka Argirova, MD.
Why does the coronavirus mutate?
The process of replication of the virus is such that in each cycle of its life path it mutates. This is because RNA contains virus and RNA is variable. This is the nature of all RNA-containing viruses, so there is nothing strange about it. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the virus mutates. However, it is important when and where it does it. It mutates with each replication cycle, but is only able to do so if it encounters vulnerable individuals in which it can reproduce. These are people who have not been vaccinated. All the variability of the virus is practically supported by people who have not been vaccinated, ie they do not have any antibodies against it and thus allow it to develop.
What is known about Omicron and is it active in Bulgaria?
The National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases reports that it has not yet been detected in Bulgaria. Otherwise, this is another variant that we know so far has too many mutations. According to some sources, there are over 50, according to others - 52, and somewhere there is talk of 55. However, most of the mutations are known from the Delta and Alpha variants and are not new to us.
There are, of course, new ones. Many of them are localized in the so-called S-protein, ie the S-gene is affected again. This is a protein - a glycoprotein that performs the receptor function between the virus and the cell through the ACE2 receptor of the cell. Because this is how the replication cycle begins, this is how the infection takes place. Therefore, these mutations are of great interest to us.
How does this version differ from its predecessors?
I can only say what we know, because every day and every hour we receive a new kind of information. What we know so far: first - it is spreading three times faster than, say, the Delta variant. Colleagues from South Africa have already made a chart that shows it very clearly. This means that the virus will be able to infect many more people in a short time, which will lead to its rapid spread. Second, in terms of infectivity, these two characteristics often go hand in hand, and Omicron can be said to be at least three times more contagious.
So far, it cannot be said to be more dangerous in terms of symptoms and mode of disease. A colleague who is observing the pandemic in South Africa reports that all patients in the South African province where this new variant is prevalent are slightly ill and generally not admitted to hospital. So, to date, we have information that this infection is mild. However, it is not yet possible to say whether this is the case for the elderly and people with concomitant diseases. We are awaiting information on this issue.
Do PCR tests detect it and do vaccines protect us?
Of course. The only case in which PCR cannot detect it is if one of the target genes in the test is the S-gene, but I think that very few people in Bulgaria work with such a target - the S-gene. In any case, even if there is an S-gene as a control in the test, it cannot be the only one. So, Omicron is detected by PCR.
As for vaccines, it is not yet known how much they protect, but it is a fact that people who are infected spend it lightly. We still do not know if they have all been vaccinated. This is important, which is why I am calling for a booster third dose.
Do anti-epidemic measures work - distance, mask, disinfection?
In all cases, I call for tighter monitoring of compliance with anti-epidemic measures. No compromises should be made with masks, disinfectants, ventilation, hand washing, cleaning - everywhere.
Vaccines have been shown to protect against severe disease, but is there a difference between the antibodies they make and the antibodies after illness? Who provides us with more reliable protection against the disease and why?
When a person becomes infected naturally, the whole virus enters his body. The virus has 29 proteins and all of them are recognized by the immune system as foreign. She tries to produce antibodies against them, although she does not always succeed in doing so.
However, when we are vaccinated, we inject one or two specific proteins - immunogens, against which we want to form antibodies. These proteins are specially selected because they are key to virus replication. In this case, they are responsible for the virus entering the sensitive cell. Therefore, vaccination is very important for us so that the formed antibodies can stop the possible infection with the next virus.
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