7 June 2024

There has been no detection of the new COVID-19 Omicron mutation in Thailand yet, but experts say it spreads faster and more easily than the Beta and Delta strains, while symptoms can be quite mild, such as anosmia, and most antigen tests are able to detect infections, according to experts.

The new variant was first detected in South Africa late last week from a specimen collected on November 9th. The WHO then formally classified it as a new strain which is “of concern”, due to this variant’s large number of mutations. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, when compared to other strains, such as Delta or Beta.

Chief of the Department of Medical Sciences Dr. Supakit Sirilak explained in a phone interview with Thai PBS that “data from labs suggests that the new strain has an increased risk of causing infections and is able to evade the immune system. Therefore, looking at infected areas and primary data, it was found that the CT (Cycle Threshold) was quite low. This means that the infection is not hard to detect.”

Meanwhile, the Centre for Medical Genomics, at the Faculty of Medicine of Ramathibodi Hospital, posted on their Facebook page that South African scientists uploaded the whole genome sequence of more than 125 samples of the coronavirus to the global coronavirus database “GISAID”, so researchers around the world can develop vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Some RT-PCR kits might, however, be problematic, resulting in false negatives or positives, indicating that some kits may not be able to detect the Omicron variant.

However, Dr. Anan Jongkaewwattana, a research scientist at the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), posted on his Facebook page that “those who are worried if antigen tests will be able to detect Omicron can relax. Looking at viral changes in the nucleocapsid protein location, which most antigen tests are designed to measure, there are few and these mutations are similar to the alpha strain, so if antigen tests are able to detect the alpha strain, there shouldn’t be a problem in detecting the Omicron.”

He also posted a Tweet from Sandra Ciesek, a German physician and virologist, who took at least three brands of antigen tests (Roche, Flow flex and Siemens) of the Omicron strain found in Germany and all three were able to detect the new strain, so other brands should not have an issue either.

The new Omicron variant still requires study, in terms of severity, symptoms and transmissibility. Additionally, there will need to be tests of the effectiveness of vaccines against it.

Pharmacy experts estimate that it may be too soon to decide whether the drugs currently treating coronavirus patients can be used for new strains.

Initially, the South African doctor who discovered the Omicron strain said that infected people will experience mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, tiredness, a light cough and discomfort for 1-2 days.

By Stephanie Adair