Infectious disease expert weighs in on omicron variant

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Scientists in South Africa have discovered a new version of the coronavirus this week, and now it has a name. The latest variant, "omicron", is being called highly transmissible by the World Health Organization, and is being blamed for the recent surge of positive cases in a few countries.

So far, none of these cases have been found in the United States. News10NBC took a look at this latest variant and heard what a local infectious disease expert has to say about it.

Rochester Regional Health’s Dr. Emil Lesho said although the news is a bit concerning, this is not something we should be panicking over.

Scientists all over the world are keeping a close eye on the latest spike of positive COVID-19 cases. Experts there say the newly named omicron variant is spreading quicker than expected. Lesho, an Infectious Disease Physician told us what we should know about this latest news.

"The new variant that’s been reported in South Africa, the Gauteng Province has many changes that concerning scientists. It has many of these mutations, and some of them are located in an important region that we use to detect the virus infection quickly," said Lesho.

The new variant has spread to other countries such as Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel. Experts blame this on travelers who were infected in South Africa. Lesho said currently there are thousands of other variants out there as well.

"Most of them end up fizzling, and just going away," Lesho said. "However some known as variants of concern which is what the Delta variant is can become problematic like Delta would."

Lesho said while much is unknown, one thing is certain.

"Our vaccination rates here at least in Monroe County are higher than the typical vaccination rates in South Africa. So that may hold us in good standing," Lesho said.

He went on to say this should not affect everyday life here, in the immediate future.

"If we continue to do the basics, you know wear masks when in public, try to get vaccines, try to get the boosters right now you know you don’t need to make any drastic changes. Not at all," Lesho said.

Again, this is preliminary. Lesho said the variant is actively being studied right now, and more data information will be available soon.