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Health And Family

Reinfections three times more likely with Omicron — South African research

Agence France-Presse
Reinfections three times more likely with Omicron â South African research
Graphic showing how SARS-CoV-2 uses the spike protein to enter cells.
AFP/JOHN SAEKI

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A preliminary study by South African scientists published Thursday suggests the Omicron variant is three times more likely to cause reinfections compared to the Delta or Beta strains.

The findings, based on data collected by the country's health system, provides the first epidemiological evidence about Omicron's ability to evade immunity from prior infection.

The paper was uploaded on a medical preprint server and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

There were 35,670 suspected reinfections among 2.8 million individuals with positive tests until November 27. Cases were considered reinfections if they tested positive 90 days apart.

"Recent reinfections have occurred in individuals whose primary infections occurred across all three waves, with the most having their primary infection in the Delta wave," tweeted Juliet Pulliam, director of the South African DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis.

Pulliam cautioned that the authors did not have information about the individuals' vaccination status and therefore could not assess to what extent Omicron evades vaccine-induced immunity. The researchers plan to study this next.

"Data are also urgently needed on disease severity associated with Omicron infection, including in individuals with a history of prior infection," she said.

Michael Head, a scientist at the University of Southampton, praised the research as "high quality."

"This analysis does look very concerning, with immunity from previous infections being relatively easily bypassed. Might this all still be a ‘false alarm’? That is looking less and less likely," he said in a statement.

Exponential rise

Earlier, top South African scientist Anne von Gottberg, an expert at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, forecast a surge in cases but said authorities expected vaccines would still be effective against severe outcomes.

"We believe the number of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces of the country," she said in a news conference with the World Health Organization's Africa region.

"We believe that vaccines will still however protect against severe disease," she added.

"Vaccines have always held out to protect against serious disease, hospitalisations and death."

WHO experts reiterated calls for a rethink on travel bans against southern Africa, given that Omicron had now been reported in nearly two dozen countries and its source remained unclear.

"South Africa and Botswana detected the variant. We don't know where the origin of this could have been," said specialist Ambrose Talisuna. "To punish people who are just detecting or reporting... is unfair."

In mid-November, South Africa was reporting about 300 cases a day. On Wednesday the country reported 8,561 new cases, up from 4,373 the day before and 2,273 on Monday.

COVID-19 VARIANT

OMICRON VARIANT

SOUTH AFRICA

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

Follow this page for updates on the new COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron and originally detected in South Africa. Photo courtesy of the The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

The Department of Health confirms the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant BA.5 in the Philippines.

The DOH says two individuals from the same household in Central Luzon tested posiive with the subvariant.

Both patients have unknown exposure and have no travel history.

May 13, 2022 - 1:53pm

The first cases of Omicron BA.2.12.1 COVID-19 variant have been detected in the National Capital Region and Palawan, the Department of Health says.

The first two cases in NCR have both received their booster shot and are now tagged as asymptomatic and recovered after completing home isolation.

Meanwhile, 14 tourists and 1 local tested positive in Puerto Princesa City on April 29. All cases are now asymptomatic.

May 12, 2022 - 8:43am

North Korea on Thursday confirms its first-ever case of Covid-19, with state media calling it a "severe national emergency incident" after more than two years of keeping the pandemic at bay.

The official KCNA news agency says the case was "consistent with" the virus' highly transmissible Omicron variant. — AFP

May 5, 2022 - 7:56am

Two new Omicron sub-variants are driving an increase in reported Covid cases in South Africa, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, stressing the importance of testing to monitor virus mutations and spread.

The heavily mutated and highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in southern Africa in November last year and rapidly spread globally, is now the dominant variant, accounting for almost all new cases. 

Omicron has long been known to have several sub-variants, with BA.2 by far the most dominant. 

But now the South African scientists who first identified Omicron are pointing to two other Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, "as the reason for a spike in cases" in the country, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. — AFP

April 27, 2022 - 5:35pm

The Department of Health says it has detected the country’s first case of BA.2.12 Omicron subvariant.

The case is a Finnish woman who arrived from Finland last April 2.

According to DOH, the woman went to a university in Quezon then to Baguio to conduct seminars. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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