Omicron may push Covid to turn endemic
by M. Sai Gopal, TelanganaToday, December 19, 2021
The rise of Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 could be a significant step in transformation of Covid-19 from a pandemic to an endemic disease.
Researchers and geneticists believe that if the present projections of the spread of the Omicron virus hold up, then in the coming years, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could become an endemic disease just like flu and common cold.
When viruses become highly transmissible but at the same time less severe, then many epidemiologists and researchers believe it’s heading from an epidemic stage to an endemic stage. In case of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, there are clear indications that the virus is more transmissible than the earlier Delta variant and at the same time, early data has indicated that it is less severe, which are ideal conditions for any virus to transform from an epidemic to endemic stage.
So, does the advent of Omicron variant is a clear indication of the Covid-19 becoming endemic in India?
“Because Omicron variant is highly transmissible and initial reports have indicated that it is less severe than Delta, there could be a possibility that eventually, the impact of the virus becomes less and even less over a period of time,” says Former Director and Distinguished Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Dr Ch Mohan Rao.
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Eventually, this is the ideal road or a path for any virus to become endemic or even a seasonal disease, he points out. “If the current projections hold, then Omicron could be on the road to become an endemic disease and every year people might have to deal with it just like cough and cold. At least this is what the hope is. Still, these are very initial stages and we need to wait for more data,” says Dr Mohan Rao.
However, he pointed out that because of its high transmissibility, people must be very cautious.
“People must realise that there is no need to panic. Based on the early data, the burden on healthcare facilities should be less, when compared to the second wave. I anticipate even less dependency on medical oxygen and ICU support when compared to the second wave,” Dr Mohan Rao said.
Acknowledging that vaccine evasion and reinfections by the Omicron variant could pose a challenge, he added, “There were many instances of reinfections and breakthrough infections during the Delta variant. However, this time around, the breakthrough infections and reinfections seems to be a bit more than the second wave, which could be a matter of concern. However, at this point, we don’t know the exact distribution of these breakthrough infections and exact data is not available.”
A zoonotic disease with foreign origins eventually becoming an endemic disease is not new in Telangana. Swine flu, which was first reported in Hyderabad way back in 2009, eventually became seasonal influenza, as people in the community developed immunity.
What is endemic disease?
Endemic diseases are described as an outbreak of diseases that are often limited to a particular region. For instance, diseases like dengue, malaria, chikungunya and seasonal influenza are endemic diseases. Endemic diseases will have stable number of cases in a particular season with very rare instances of surges.