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Omicron variant spreading around the globe as health experts assess danger

Experts say it is only a matter of time before it hits the U.S., if it isn't here already. Not much is known for certain about the variant.

SAN ANTONIO — Health experts from across the globe are keeping a close watch on the omicron COVID variant. It has only ben four days since the variant became known to the world, but it is spreading quickly in at least 14 countries. 

The World Health Organization says omicron could fuel a global surge in cases with very severe consequences around the world. But it will still be at least two more weeks of testing to know just how much of an impact it will make. 

"Is it likely to be transmitted more easily?" asked Dr. Bryan Alsip, the Chief Medical Officer at University Health. "Does it result in more severe disease? Is it going to be somewhat resistant to the vaccines that we know or are safe and effective against the existing current variants?" 

"It's good that South Africa let us know early," said Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist with UT Health San Antonio. "I saw a report from World Health Organization where they only have about 100 samples of this virus currently, and they're using those to do the testing." 

omicron brings the total number of variants of COVID-19 to 13. South Africa reported the first case of the omicron variant to the WHO on Nov. 24th. That came from samples collected on November 9th. Since then it has been found in a total of 15 countries around the world. Experts say it is only a matter of time before it hits the U.S. 

"As we see this variant being detected in many different countries and we can expect it to certainly occur in the U.S., it may already be here," Dr. Alsip added "We just haven't tested for it or found it yet."   

So what do we do to prepare now? Keep up with protecting ourselves like we've been doing for the past two years. 

"Wearing your mask, doing a good hand hygiene warning, large crowds," Dr. Bowling said. "But importantly, it's important for people still get vaccinated right now."  

Even though we now have omicron don't forget about the flu. Especially if you plan to travel this Christmas make sure you get the flu vaccine. And both kids and adults can get the COVID vaccine at the same time as the flu shot.. 

Why is this latest variant called omicron? You need to know about the previous variants first. There are two variants of interest, lambda and mu. Three former variants of interest, Kappa, Iota, and Eta are labeled as variants being monitored. Epsilon, Zeta, and Theta are formerly monitored variants. The WHO skipped over Nu because it sounded like the word new, and Xi because it is a common last name. That leaves five variants of concern, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and the latest Omicron.

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