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Omicron strain may have been formed in HIV patient, immunologist thinks

The virus may multiple for weeks in those with a weakened immune system, Carsten Watzl pointed out

BERLIN, November 29. /TASS/. Secretary General of the German Society of Immunology Carsten Watzl thinks that the new Omicron coronavirus strain which may be more contagious than previous variants may have been formed in an HIV patient or a person with other immunodeficiency disorders, according to his interview with the DPA news agency.

The scientist explained that the virus may multiple for weeks in those with a weakened immune system. "During this process, sometimes an emergence of separate mutations is possible which may not give any advantages to the virus, yet which may still continue to multiply due to the lack of control on the part of the immune system," he said. At the same time, he specified that all of this may lead to the emergence of additional mutations which may cause a possible advantage in combination as a result.

At the same time, it is stressed that the new Omicron strain has a much greater number of mutations in proteins than the strain discovered in Wuhan. These include the mutations related to a greater possibility of transmission and immunodeficiency. Additionally, there are many mutations with an unclear designation.

The scientist added that many HIV patients in Africa do not receive adequate treatment, therefore their immune system has been significantly weakened. In order to avoid the spread of such seriously modified variants as the Omicron strain, it is important to detect infected people with a weakened immune system and isolate them until they cease to be contagious. "Because, even if the virus mutates significantly in such a person, only the transmission of an altered virus is what is really dangerous," the immunologist concluded.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.1.529 variant discovered in South Africa as a "Variant of Concern" and assigned it the Greek letter Omicron. This variant has a large number of mutations some of which alarm the WHO. Several changes at once in the spike protein can potentially hinder the neutralization of the pathogen by antibodies which may impact the effectiveness of vaccines. Additionally, according to preliminary reports, the strain has a heightened ability to spread. As a precautionary measure, a number of countries suspended air service with southern African countries.