During the past year, the country of South Africa suffered from three incomprehensible high jumps in the number of cases infected with “Covid-19”, the last of which was last summer when infections reached the limits of 30,000 per day, and this wave was related to the “delta” strain of the emerging corona that It is now considered the main strain in the whole world, but recently, beginning last October, another wave returned to rise coinciding with the announcement of a new variant called “Omicron” by the World Health Organization (1), and it is believed that this new wave is nothing but a manifestation For the new variant and it is announced its existence!

Mutations .. Why does Corona mutate?

It is like being asked to transfer a message consisting of several thousand English letters from a brochure to your computer, it usually happens that you transfer one or more letters wrong, this is what happens in the case of the emerging corona, it is composed of a protein envelope surrounding part of the DNA Someone who has a basic trait, which is the ability to copy himself repeatedly, but cannot do it alone, must first enter a living cell, and then force it to manufacture its own DNA as if it were its own.

But during the transcription process for about 30 thousand characters, this time not letters in the understandable sense, but rather chemical units that follow on the DNA tape, following the scenes on a movie tape, it happens naturally (2) that one of those characters is deleted, or it changes to another character, Or a new letter is added to the sequence, that is the mutation, and it is usually benign, it does not affect anything, but it may destroy the virus and weaken its effect completely.

But in some rare cases, that mutation may be beneficial to the virus, improving its chances of survival compared to its condition before the mutation, and it spreads more, or becomes more lethal.

In fact, mutations are the reason for the transmission of viruses such as the emerging corona from the animal world to the human world, where thousands of viruses enter our bodies all the time, but they pass peacefully because the cells of our bodies are not able to identify them, but one of the mutations can enable the virus to identify human cells And copying itself inside it, and here begins epidemics and pandemics.

The same thing happens during the spread of the virus between humans, where it changes through mutations to improve its spread (or vice versa).

What caused the emergence of this strain?

Well, the new strain of the Corona virus was called “B.1.1.529”, and in fact we do not know how it happened, but there is a basic note about it that the number of its mutations is greater than expected by a fundamental difference, as mutations in the virus usually accumulate at lower rates than that with This is primarily what worries scientists, because the large number of mutations means that the basic characteristics of the virus can change dramatically as well.

For the purposes of comparison, let us mention that the British strain that we now know as “Delta”, which is already in control of the world, got 17 additional mutations, which caught the attention of scientists, and their fears were already fulfilled when those mutations helped the virus to become faster spread, and the new variable “ Omicron” (3) has witnessed the occurrence of more than 50 mutations simultaneously, including about 30 mutations in the Spike Protein, which is found in the protrusions on the surface of the Corona virus.

The job of this protein is to bind to specific types of receptors on human cells in a lock-and-key fashion, and those receptors then pull it into the cell where replication begins. Therefore, any changes in these protrusions may improve their ability to compatibility with the receptors in human cells, on the other hand, these mutations may help the virus to be better hidden from the human immune system, in addition to that, there is a chance that the virus with the mutation evades from Vaccines that rely on targeting the Al-Hasakah protein.

Usually the reason for this type of genetic jump is an infection that has remained for a long time with one patient with weaker than average immune capabilities (for example, with AIDS), which gave the virus the opportunity to mutate several times, or perhaps the virus passed from an animal to humans after If he infected it for a period from another human, the virus mutated inside it, and usually those mutations that move between two organisms of two different types carry a greater number of mutations, and sudden mutations can also be detected due to the absence of monitoring by scientists of the mutations of a virus for a long time.

In any case, we know that South Africa has vaccinated only 24% of its population, which means that the disease is still spreading there, and as long as the disease spreads in any place on the surface of the earth, there is a chance to mutate (this indicates an important point that the problem is not For a country to save its population by vaccinating them, but for the disease to be controlled throughout the world, which requires a kind of solidarity that we have not seen since the moment the pandemic appeared.

Is it the first boom we're seeing?

In fact, many do not know that there are (4) more than 12,000 variants (Variant) of the emerging corona, which appeared due to tens of thousands of mutations that have occurred to the virus since the first reported case of infection was recorded in China in December 2019, which we will assume is the first Transmission of the virus from animal to human.

Of all these diversities, there was only a limited number of them that attracted the attention of researchers and the general public around the world, on top of which of course the Delta dynasty that we talked about a little while ago, including what happened when the government in Denmark killed (5) about 15 million One of the mink animals in the country because the new Corona virus was transmitted to it from humans, and then it mutated inside it into five new species, one of which was likely to be fully or partially resistant to vaccines, and it had already transmitted to about 400 Danish citizens. There is a famous mutation (6) called "D614G", and with its spread in Europe, the team of scientists believed at the time that it was more capable of spreading ten times more than normal, before it was apparently contained in time.

Well, let's be clear, we don't know much about "Omicron" yet, but usually, when a new strain of the virus appears, what worries scientists is answering three main questions, which will fundamentally affect our medical and non-medical line of dealing with it: Is the new strain spread faster? Is it more dangerous? Will it affect the effectiveness of vaccines? The main answer to these three questions is: "We don't know yet," but there is a harbinger of danger. As we said, the large number of mutations makes this strain the most striking and potentially dangerous, and recent weeks have already witnessed a sharp rise in infections in South Africa coinciding with the discovery of Omicron, especially the infections were concentrated among school and university students and among young people in general.

Because of this, the World Health Organization has identified the new variable as a "variant of concern", meaning that it has the potential to become more contagious or more virulent, or it may affect the effectiveness of public health measures or available diagnoses, vaccines and treatments. .

But the answer remains that we have so far only possibilities, and scientific research is still racing against time to answer the three previous questions.

The only reassuring thing here is that we witnessed many examples of variables that seemed frightening at first glance, but the matter passed smoothly, for example, the “beta” variable, which was the best in escaping from the human immune system, but in the end it was the fastest spreading Delta strain that took over the world .

Can it be prevented from spreading?

With some countries (8) such as the United States, Japan, Canada, some European Union countries and even Arab countries banning flights to and from countries affected by the new variable, it is likely that the relatively early closure measures will slow the spread of this strain among the countries of the world, but it will not prevent its spread completely. Simply because the first case discovered, of course, is not the first case to be infected, and because the strain seems - in principle - to have a great ability to spread. As we speak, the new strain has already reached South Africa, Hong Kong, Botswana, Israel, Belgium, Britain, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic. (9)

In any case, we know that the new Corona will continue to mutate, and new strains will appear from it - one day - that require changing vaccines, and this is normal and it is certain that major companies are anticipating and preparing for it, but fortunately for us this virus has molecular correction mechanisms that prevent it from Mutation rates are high, and its mutation rates are almost equal to half of the seasonal flu rates, which gives some reassurance regarding vaccination and treatment, but it is reassurance that will not last forever!

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Resources:

  • Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern

  • What happens if COVID-19 mutates?

  • Heavily mutated coronavirus variant puts scientists on alert

  • The coronavirus is mutating — does it matter?

  • Here's why Denmark culled 17 million minks and now plans to dig up their buried bodies.

    The Covid mink crisis, explained

  • The coronavirus is mutating — does it matter?

  • Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern

  • US, Canada, EU, Japan restrict South Africa travel over Omicron variant

  • Tracking COVID-19 variant Omicron

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