The possibility of a new variant was first flagged by doctor Angelique Coetzee when a series of patients came to her practise with Covid symptoms not seen before. None of them exhibited the loss of taste or smell that has previously been characteristic of the Coronavirus. “It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” doctor Coetzee told the Telegraph. “They might have a slight cough, there are no prominent symptoms.”
Doctor Coetzee emphasised in a briefing to other African medical associations that her patients were all healthy and that the new variant might be much more harmful to old people.
The greatest risk are older people with known underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or heart disease.
“What we have to worry about now is that when older, unvaccinated people are infected with the new variant, and if they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many people with a severe disease,” she told the interviewer.
Most of the patients in doctor Coetzee’s clinic were young men and half had been unvaccinated.
One patient, a six-year-old girl was described as having “very interesting symptoms”.
The child presented a temperature and very high pulse rate that nearly warranted hospitalisation.
When doctor Coetzee followed up a couple days later, the child was already recovering.
It is not yet known what effect these symptoms might have on somebody with a pre-existing condition.
The series of mutations present on the Omicron Coronavirus has raised concern that it may be able to evade vaccination.
Penny Moore, a Johannesburg virologist, told Nature that there are isolated reports of reinfections but “at this stage it’s too early to tell anything.”
Omicron’s mutation profile has been analysed with genome sequencing and has been found to have more than 30 changes to the spike protein.
This is the protein that is targeted by the body’s immune responses, meaning that if it is too heavily altered it will no longer be affected by current antibodies and vaccines.
The ZOE Covid study, a non-profit initiative launched by a health science company with King’s College London has collected symptom reports from millions of people across the globe.
They have identified sneezing, headaches, sore throats, runny noses, fevers and persistent coughs as some of the most commonly reported symptoms.
Loss of taste or smell is a commonly reported symptom for all other variants but has not been seen to occur in Omicron patients.
The study is still open for people to report their current or past symptoms using a mobile phone app.