Omicron thrives in airways
December 17, 2021 - According to a Hong Kong University study awaiting peer review, the Omicron coronavirus variant can multiply within airways faster than the Delta version and original strain.
Compared to the earlier Delta variant, Omicron replicates 70 times more quickly in the bronchus -- the tissue which connects the trachea to the lungs – within 24 hours after infection.
The study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Michael Chan Chi-wai, found that the newest variant of concern replicated less efficiently -- more than ten times lower -- in lung tissue than the original strain, which may signal “lower severity of disease.” The findings, posted on Monday on the website bioRxiv ahead of peer review, need to be verified.
A separate study conducted by researchers at New York-based Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found the virus resistant to “convalescent plasma,” donated by people who have recovered from infection.
The non-peer-reviewed study also found that neutralizing potency from individuals who received the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA-based vaccines was reduced 21-fold and 8.9-fold, respectively.
The Hong Kong University study warns against taking the new variant lightly. “By infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic,” Chan said in the statement.