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What health experts say about the new ‘stealth’ omicron variant in the U.S.

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 5:40 PM CST
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Wis. (WBAY) - As the omicron variant of covid-19 continues to be the dominant strain in the U.S., there’s a subvariant of the virus that the World Health Organization is keeping an eye on.

It’s called the ‘stealth’ omicron variant.

“The message really right now is that it’s not worth worrying about per se, but it’s definitely worth thinking about and monitoring closely,” said Dr. Dan Shirley, Interim Medical Director for Infection Prevention at UW-Health.

Dr. Shirley said it’s too early to tell if this new subvariant of omicron will be a problem.

“I think the big question here is, does it matter if this variant sort of overtakes the original type of Omicron?” said Dr. Shirley. “I think this time we have some clues that it may not impact the actual clinical pathway, as it did before when we’re talking about the change from delta to Omicron.”

Early indications show the ‘stealth’ variant may not be a huge concern because it’s a subvariant of omicron, which we already know quite a bit about. Unlike when we jumped from the Delta variant to a whole new omicron variant where there were major mutations leading to increased transmissibility.

“Omicron is changing a little bit and that’s probably somewhat expected. Now we need to find out if that has any actual clinical meaning,” said Dr. Shirley.

The World Health Organization has been keeping track of variants and subvariants since the beginning of the pandemic. On its website, there are variants that were monitored at one point during the pandemic that never amounted to a concerning level.

Health experts said virus mutations are expected as it continues to spread and infect people.

“Variants occur because of replication,” said Dr. Ashok Rai, President, and CEO of Prevea. “When a virus replicates, it replicates thousands and millions of times over and mistakes happen during that replication process and that is how we get a variant.”

Although some variants never amount to anything, it’s still too early to tell if that will be the case for the ‘stealth’ omicron variant too.

“People shouldn’t let their guard down yet and think that Omicron is going to be peaking … and then we’ll be fine in a couple of weeks, and we’ll be out of this, and it will be an endemic status and we don’t need to worry about it. It’s not true. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future and this new subvariant is just another example of something that may prolong things,” said Dr. Robert Mead, a family physician at Bellin Health.

“I think it’s kind of early to tell if this really has any major, real-life implications for the United States and Wisconsin as a whole,” said Dr. Shirley. “For everyday kind of advice. I mean, we already are dealing with a very contagious variant Omicron. And so, you know, slight differences in that transmission probably won’t make a huge difference, at least for the advice of how to turn the tide of this surge.”

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