Those who are sick or vulnerable should delay travel to COVID-19 hotspots – that’s the advice given by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its most recent advisory. The WHO says that those who are sixty years and older and those who have cancer, diabetes and heart disease, for example, should not travel to those destinations, given the appearance of the omicron (oh-mi-kron) variant. Thus far, it has not been detected in Belize, but it is just a matter of time before it emerges. Doctor Marvin Manzanero, a trained epidemiologist, offered his professional insight in an interview with Love News.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Internist: “The concern that came about was because of the amount of mutations that this new variant displayed when it was initially flagged. Viruses mutate everyday. I mean even inside ourselves once you get infected by SARS-CoV-2 the virus that you have inside might be mutating at its own rate and pace. For the most part most of those mutations are just changes and so you can have parts of a protein being added, parts of a protein being deleted and sometimes the mutations don’t really express anything else, they don’t really translate into any further diseases in humans but sometimes you will mutations or changes to the structure of the virus that can do one of many things. You can have the virus being more likely to transmit, causing more severe disease, there can be a host of things that can happen but as I said the particular flag in this was that there were at least thirty two mutations noted in the spike protein. The spike protein is the portion of the virus that attaches itself to our human cells that causes us to develop infections. That’s perhaps the simplest explanation I can think of. So once you have so many mutations in one protein that is causing that virus to attach itself to our human cells many things can happen and the first consideration is whether it’s going to increase its transmissibility whether it’s more likely to cause infections at a more quicker rate, at a faster rate, whether it’s going to cause more severe disease, whether the treatments that we know are going to be of any use and of course one of the concerns is whether the vaccines that are currently in circulation would continue to provide some level of benefit versus this new strain. Understand also that while this was detected in South Africa the samples the first cases were actually in the country of Botswana and also understand that once these were detected these samples were from November 9th samples that’s three weeks ago so you detect a new variant three weeks after. Kudos to the South African researchers that are on top of this but you also have to factor in that you had a three week period where the strain would have been able to spread beyond those countries and you notice everyday we’re finding out new cases popping up in countries all over now .”
Love News asked the good doctor whether the authorities can stop the virus from mutating. He said that while political will alone can’t solve the problem, he believes that vaccines working with public health measures should effectively respond to these issues. Here’s how he puts it.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Internist: “I do know that South African leaders and leaders in that southern portion of Africa were having heavy discussions in terms of how unfair it is that world travel and how the economy of that portion of Africa is going to be affected because of the drastic measures some countries have taken and also flagging the fact that the inequity in terms of vaccine distribution and having access to vaccines may be a contributing factor when you have some of the countries having less than 7% of their population vaccinated. And so these issues I think will continue to happen. I don’t know that you can actually stop the virus from spreading. I know countries in the region have taken measures, some have been very drastic I think Israel and Morocco basically stopped all air travel. I know three countries in the Caribbean region banned travel from at least eight countries from the South African region but I don’t know that there is one quick fix in that plight. I think mutations will continue to happen. The usual and traditional public health measures that we have been flagging from all throughout last year plus the added layer of vaccines now I think would be our best bet.”
The variant, first reported by scientists in South Africa, has resulted in travel restrictions by the U.S., the U.K., and the European Union to announce restrictions to several countries on the continent, including South Africa.