Johns Hopkins lab tests Omicron variant – NBC4 Washington

Although federal health officials have said the omicron variant is the dominant COVID-19 strain in the United States, local lab directors want to know how widespread it is in the region and what it means for health. at local level.

It’s too early to tell if the huge spike in COVID-19 cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia is entirely due to the omicron variant, but that’s the suspicion as it’s known to spread much more easily. .

A Maryland lab director said it also could be that the public has also been less careful since receiving a recall, and the only way to say for sure is to test those tests positive.

“In my lab, we’ve actually sequenced almost everything so far,” said Dr. Heba Mostafa, who heads the Molecular Virology Lab at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Everyone works like a factory, but we feel like we’re doing it really well. . “

She said that omicron now accounts for 65% of the samples they test – below the nearly 76% projected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the region earlier this week.

Sequencing a positive PCR test or examining its genetic makeup can take up to 10 days, so there is a slight lag in the sequencing data.

Mostafa said there is no doubt that omicron has increased exponentially over the past two weeks, but there are signs that it may be less severe than previous strains.

“So far, all of the omicron cases that I have looked at in my lab have actually been associated with outpatients,” she said. “No one has even been admitted. So, so far, it looks like a milder illness. Yes, some of them have actually been vaccinated. A few of them have had three doses.”

But she said most patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are still the ones who aren’t vaccinated, likely because of the more dangerous delta strain.

Mostafa said replacing delta with omicron as the more common strain, in his opinion, has been lightning fast, and that could be good news.

“I am optimistic,” she said. “If this turns out to be a milder disease, perhaps this is the transition we need from a highly pathogenic crown to an endemic crown associated with the common cold-like disease.”

DC Health told News4 that the district public health lab sequenced about 42% of its samples as of December, but earlier this week it said omicron made up less than 1%. This will likely increase once the 10 day processing time is caught.

DC, Maryland and Virginia have all seen an exponential spike in cases with record numbers of positive tests.

“It hits us again during the holiday season when everyone travels and meets,” Mostafa said. “So we just, I think, I think everyone just has to be a little bit careful.”

She said it was still too early to say for sure whether omicron really is a milder version of COVID-19.

She said more should be known in a few weeks as doctors continue to monitor patients who test positive. Public health officials are also tracking the immunization status of every person who tests positive for omicron. With the rise of this new variant, they have noticed an increase in the number of patients contracting COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated and even boosted.

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Hector Hedgepeth

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