Scientists raised the alarm last week about a new, heavily mutated SARS-CoV-2 viral variant, which has prompted the World Health Organization to declare Omicron a "variant of concern," as the Los Angeles Times reports.
Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, includes a plethora of mutations, the World Health Organization adds. These include 32 changes that affect the viral spike protein, according to the Guardian. Science says that that change is how a lab in South Africa spotted the variant — PCR tests were missing the viral S gene.
"We were shocked by the number of mutations," Tulio de Oliveira from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa tells Science.
Some of these changes could lead to increased infectivity and decreased antibody recognition, the University of Cambridge's Ravi Gupta tells the Guardian. The Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar's notes at Science that more time is needed to work out how different Omicron may be from other SARS-CoV-2 viral variants.
NPR adds that Omicron has been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci tells ABC News it that the variant will eventually be found in the US. "As we all know, when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here," Fauci said on ABC's This Week. "The question is: Will we be prepared for it?"