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Why a COVID test won’t tell you which variant to have – NBC Chicago

If you are tested for coronavirus, you will not find out whether you have the new omicron variant or not. The process of determining the variant is more complicated, according to experts.

“When you get a COVID test, they’re just looking to see if you have COVID or not,” said Dr. Emily Landon, Infectious Disease Specialist and Senior Epidemiologist for the Hospital at the University of Chicago Medicine. “They are not in a position to find out the exact level of COVID. You have to do this thing called sequencing, which takes a lot longer. It’s a lot more intense. You certainly can’t get that back in 24 hours, and it will only be done by specialists Laboratories carried out. “

However, doctors say the best way to tell if you have any form of COVID is to get tested.

“The trick is, you can’t tell the difference between Omicron, Delta Lambda, and plain COVID from the start,” Landon said. “Influenza, or even rhinovirus, is what causes most of our colds in winter. You won’t tell the difference between these just by looking at your symptoms. For many people, these Venn diagram symptoms such as taste, loss of taste, and smell overlap … there is a lot of overlap. You just don’t know what kind of illness you have, especially at the beginning of an illness. You have to be tested. “

Chicago is already preparing for the variant to be discovered in the US and the city, although it remains unclear how quickly it could spread.

“When you put so many different variations or changes in a virus, it sometimes doesn’t work very well. And just because we’re seeing some cases in South Africa doesn’t necessarily mean this virus will be fit enough. “Or good enough to replace Delta or make it better,” said Landon. “Delta has been the most effective variant of this virus so far and lambda, beta – the other two who seem to be at higher risk for vaccine leakage – didn’t really do it that much faster, so much more effectively … and that’s why we at omicron don’t know if it will be able to will do that or not, delta already exists. “

In a statement Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady that the city is “very much involved in the intensified discussions about the Omikron variant of the COVID-19 virus, especially with our federal partners”.

“We have no reason to believe Omicron is here right now, but given the way this virus and its variants are spreading, I think we have to assume that it will get here at some point,” said Lightfoot . We still overwhelmingly see that the variant here in Chicago remains the Delta variant, but we have to pay attention to what we see around the world. “

Similarly, the Cook County Health Department said Friday it is monitoring the variant “very carefully.”

The global Omicron risk is “very high,” said the World Health Organization on Monday, as more countries have reported cases of the variant that have raised concerns around the world that more pandemics are imminent.

Despite the worldwide alarm, there is still little understanding of the variant and how virulent it can be.

The World Health Organization announced last week that Omircon has been classified as a “questionable variant”.

The technical director of the COVID-19 program of the WHO emergency health program, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said that early evidence for Omicron, known by the technical term B.1.1.529, shows that the variant has a large number of mutations, some of which have questionable properties.

Omicron also has an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly communicable variants, suggesting that people who have contracted COVID and recovered may be more prone to contracting this variant again.

“All we know is basic science,” said Dr. Emily Landon, infectious disease specialist and chief epidemiologist for the hospital at the University of Chicago Medicine. “That means we know the sequence of the virus and that means we can tell what the spike protein looks like compared to the usual spike protein. The mutations that are in the spike protein are worrying. Some of them are the same ones that made the delta variant very, very transmissible. There are also additional changes in the spike protein that we see in the beta variant and the lambda variant. Those are the two we feared that they could bypass immunity to the vaccine. ”

But, according to Landon, “this is not all or nothing”.

“It is important to know that just because we are seeing these changes, and it is changes that we have previously registered, as they correspond to a lower level of immunity or the fact that the vaccine is not quite as good or is more likely to be transmitted.” faster and easier from person to person does not necessarily mean that this particular virus will get the upper hand and in this case it will be the most common variant, ”she said. “We just don’t know yet.”

Dr. Sharon Welbel, director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at Cook County Health, said experts in South Africa were quick to raise the alarm, which could lead to a better response

“The South African researchers were very quick to relay this information to the world,” said Welbel. “Now we have researchers all over the world studying this.”

The symptoms associated with the new variety were described as “extremely mild” by the doctor who first raised concerns about the new variety. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC on Sunday that she began seeing patients with “unusual symptoms” that were slightly different from those of the Delta variant earlier this month.

“It actually started with a male patient who is around 33 years old … and he said to me that he was just [been] Extremely tired the last few days and he has these body aches and a bit of a headache, “she told the BBC.

The patient has no sore throat, she said, but rather “scratches in the throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell – symptoms that have been linked to previous strains of the coronavirus.

Moderna chief medical officer Paul Burton said Sunday the vaccine maker could launch a reformulated vaccine against the variant Omicron coronavirus early next year.

The vaccine maker “mobilized hundreds” of workers as of early Thursday morning on Thanksgiving to begin researching the new variant, the company said in a statement.

Current vaccines might offer some protection depending on how long a person has been injected, Burton said. Even so, he said that unvaccinated people should get vaccinated or get their booster vaccination if they are eligible.

It is unclear whether new formulations are needed or whether current COVID vaccinations offer protection against the new variant.

“We had the same problem with the Delta variant,” said Welbel. “And again, the drug companies – Moderna and Pfizer at least – thought they might need to reformulate their vaccine, but it turns out they seem to work pretty well with boosters, what I want to say is they work well on serious diseases and prevent deaths [omicron]. I think in the meantime we really need to function at some level before we have vaccines, which is not difficult. We’re already doing that. We have to mask when we’re inside, we have to keep physical distance from what we can, we have to test and monitor. “

According to Landon, there is still no need to panic.

“I think a cause for concern, not a cause to panic,” she said. “There is still a lot to learn and personally I am not convinced that this will be some kind of doomsday variant. Obviously there could be new information that could change my mind.”

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