The advance of the variant Omicron of SARS-CoV-2, detected in South Africa last November 24, is generating a peak of cases that for places like Europe or the US mean the height of the sixth wave of the pandemic and for Argentina the full entry into the third wave. Scientists agree that its effects on health would be less than those of its predecessor Delta, but even so, it is once again putting the world’s health systems to the test, because Although intensive care beds are not overcrowded, primary care has been affected.
As a recent study in South Africa indicates, the variant “Ómicron would cause less severe illness, reducing the risk of hospitalization and death compared to Delta by 25%”, although he considered that its severity has been attenuated mainly by vaccinations and previous infection.
This lower severity of the pictures generated by Ómicron It has allowed the exponential increase in cases not to translate into a similar proportion in the number of deaths, despite which, it is evident that this statistic drives.
But at what stage of the pandemic is Ómicron placing us? Where are we going? Do we depend on the appearance of a new variant to know if this health crisis will be overcome or will continue?
To shed light on it, Infobae held a dialogue with the internist doctor Miguel Marcos Martín, full professor of the Department of Medicine of the University of Salamanca and the Internal Medicine Service of the University Hospital of Salamanca, Spain.
Dr. Marcos had considered last December, one month after the discovery of the variant detected in South Africa: “We are probably in the transition from pandemic to endemic,” understanding by the first of the terms the current situation in which there is a “uncontrolled infection worldwide”, that gained strength with the appearance of Ómicron, when Delta was still advancing and spreading in many countries. “And endemic is the presence of a more or less stable number of cases each year or over a period of time,” pointed out.
Since then, both in Argentina and in his country, Spain, the cases did not stop growing, beating the marks even of the previous waves. The Argentine Ministry of Health reported on Friday, January 14, that, in the last 24 hours, 96 deaths and 139,853 coronavirus infections had been registered, which implied a new record since the pandemic began. The last peak had been registered on Tuesday, January 11, when 134,439 cases were reported.
To give an overview of what the last month has been for Spain, from December 14 to January 14, 2,726,908 new cases were reported. Of these, 1,512,749 were in the last two weeks.
“We are in the midst of an epidemic wave in many countries. (such as Spain or Argentina) mainly due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, so it is important to take the necessary precautions to reduce it as much as possible”, recalled Marcos, in dialogue with Infobae.
Still, he remembered “in other countries the number of cases is already falling, also rapidly. This rapid decline, the relatively lower impact on severe cases and deaths compared to other waves, the percentage of the population vaccinated, and the recent approval of oral antiviral drugs, They make us think that we are indeed in the transition from the pandemic to the endemic”, ratified. This means that it will passto a situation in which SARS-CoV-2 infections continue to exist, continue to be relevant especially for frail or immunosuppressed patients, but the management of the infection is more similar to how other diseases are managed”.
The Spanish specialist remarked that “many experts agree that we are in that transition, but what is impossible is to specify the moment in which it would happen” the leap towards the endemic situation, but stressed that it will be a process Gradual, consisting of a succession of events.
The multiplication of cases throughout the world that the super contagious Omicron is generating could lead to the emergence of new variants. It is known that the more a virus reproduces, the more likely it is to make “mistakes” in the transmission of its genetic information that, in many cases, will allow it to survive and in others not. Some variants will have the advantage of replicating more quickly and infecting cells more efficiently. These will be the ones that become what the World Health Organization describes as a concern. Many mutations throughout the almost two years of the pandemic that emerged in China resulted in viruses that simply infect better than the original detected in late 2019.
When this medium asked Dr. Marcos what he sees in the event that a new effective variant appears, the specialist replied: “The appearance of variants is a random phenomenon, although we can reduce the risk of this happening with the measures that we already know to stop the transmission of the disease. In any case,it is highly unlikely that we will ‘go back’, because the immunity that we already have against the virus, individually and collectively, is more than likely to also protect, to a greater or lesser extent, against other variants. In fact, Two of the key points in the evolution of the pandemic is the immunity generated by the Omicron variant together with the appearance of new variants.”
Even considering that this mutation would be producing less severe disease symptoms because it mainly affects the upper airways, Marcos called prevent reinfection by Omicron. “Generally, It’s never good to get infected with anything,” he said..
He highlighted as an “important message to transmit at this time” that it should be “avoided completely abandoning the transmission measures. We do not know the effect of repeated reinfections and each infection can lead to complications or risk of persistent COVID. Therefore, we cannot say that it is good to be reinfected even if it is true that reinfection would produce greater immunity against the virus. But it makes no sense to get infected to have less risk of getting infected in the future.
Regarding the current highly dynamic situation of infections, Marcos said that in his country “the health system is being subjected, once again, to an excessive number of cases, both mild and severe, that it is difficult to manage and, at the same time, maintain the attention of the rest of the pathologies. Fortunately we are already prepared by the previous waves and the health system responds but it inevitably affects the care of other diseases”. In that sense, he stressed that this is very important because “chronic patients need a series of controls and health care that logically cannot be performed optimally at this time.”
Finally, he set his position regarding the project of the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, and his Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, to start registering cases of COVID-19 like those of the flu. The plan would involve stopping accounting on a case-by-case basis. That is, it works through a network of health centers and professionals who report the evolution of coronavirus outbreaks, which is technically called “sentinel surveillance” instead of the current method of “universal surveillance.” The method would be similar to a survey, similar to the one used in Europe to track influenza.
“I agree with most experts who believe that the ideal would be to make these changes once the Omicron wave has passed and that we can see more clearly the situation and also the effect of these changes. At this time they are changes forced by the situation itself and, although it is possible that they will work well, we cannot guarantee it either”, he concluded.