(CBS4) – A new variant form of COVID-19 – omicron – Some experts worry it could be more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant than previous variants of the virus. So how did the virus get to this point? Health experts say it is a series of mistakes the virus makes as it passes from one host to another.
“When viruses are passed from person to person, every time the virus passes to a new person, it replicates over and over, and there is a chance of something going wrong,” explained Tori Burket, Epidemiology Intervention Programme. Director of the Denver Department of Public Health and the Environment.
When a virus grows inside a human, Burkett says, it replicates and makes copies of itself. Sometimes the virus misses those copies, resulting in mutations.
Bugs can sometimes make the virus weaker, and this variant dies, but sometimes, bugs help the virus become a stronger and more resistant form of its previous version.
“So if you kind of think if you’re a kid, and you’re playing that phone game with your friends, and you turn to your friend and whisper something, that message gets passed along with enough people, things are going to change and by the time you get to the last person The message might look a little different than it did at first,” Burkett said. “In general, your body is still perceiving, you know, that this is COVID-19 and that’s why we call them variants.”
She says the influenza virus mutates about four times faster than the coronavirus.
“That’s why every year you get a new flu shot,” Burkett said. “They change the vaccine every year to try to match the common strains they see floating around as they change and change.”
While it will take two weeks for health officials to fully understand the properties of the omicron variant, scientists are concerned that the elevated protein mutation indicates that it could be more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant.
Burkett says the best way for communities to prevent further surges of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask indoors and practice social distancing.
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“If we are able to reduce the total number of people infected with COVID-19, that reduces the chance of this virus mutating at every step,” Burkett explained. “Everyone who gets infected, that’s an opportunity for the virus to mutate. So if we reduce that number, we take away those chances, and there won’t be many mutations, and there won’t be many variables.”