NewsHow widespread is Omikron in Germany?

How widespread is Omikron in Germany?

The Corona variant Omikron, which is classified as worrying, has already been detected several times in Germany. How much is Omikron already circulating in this country?

Berlin – After the first evidence of the Omikron variant in Germany, experts assume an occurrence that already goes beyond this.

The period in which travelers were already spreading the virus internationally was certainly weeks, said Oliver Keppler, board member at the Max von Pettenkofer Institute of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, when asked by the dpa. “There may be a few hundred cases in Germany.”

However, the current infection numbers in Germany cannot be associated with Omikron, that is the delta wave, emphasized Keppler. He considers a larger undiscovered omicron distribution in Germany to be unlikely. At the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, Omikron cases were detected in Bavaria. Shortly after it became known, the variant was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as causing concern. Several countries around the world have now reported evidence. The Robert Koch Institute has not yet published total figures for Germany.

“Health system in a dead end”

“In view of the delta infection dynamics, our health system is already in a dead end with its back to the wall,” said Keppler, explaining the possible influence of the new variant on the current wave. “Now a car with a defective brake is driving towards it.” Omikron properties are still difficult to assess with regard to transferability, reduction in vaccine effectiveness and the severity of the disease. What is known so far, however, gives rise to fear of a worsening of the situation. Therefore, there is now “the greatest pressure to act to break the fourth wave”.

The virologist Sandra Ciesek expects that more can only be said about the duration and extent of the international Omikron distribution in the near future. You will learn that in the next few weeks, for example when laboratories analyze reserve samples from the past few weeks, she said on request. The RKI also announced that it would analyze genome sequences obtained in the past.

Many cases undetected

The fact that European countries only recognized the variant in travelers after South Africa and other countries warned about it probably means that many cases have so far remained undetected, tweeted the Austrian vaccination expert Florian Krammer (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York ) a few days ago. “It also tells us a lot about genome surveillance in some high-income countries.”

During routine monitoring in Germany, the genetic makeup of five to ten percent of positive corona samples is broken down. “This is how Omikron would also be discovered in Germany,” said the Association of Accredited Laboratories in Medicine (ALM) on Tuesday. The RKI provides information on the results of these analyzes in its weekly reports; this is always shown by data from the previous week. This is justified with the “process-related long time until the sequencing results are transmitted to the RKI”.

How Omikron could influence the fourth wave in Germany cannot yet be reliably estimated, according to Ciesek from the Frankfurt University Hospital. “We currently have a pronounced delta wave, that in itself is a big problem, which actually requires our full attention.” Omikron definitely leads to further stresses on the laboratories.

Special Omicron kits tested

Conventional PCR tests that are carried out in laboratories also show a positive corona result for people infected with Omikron. Which variant is involved remains in the dark with this procedure. Additional PCR retesting for certain characteristic mutations can provide evidence of omicrons; according to the ALM, a whole genome analysis is currently required as confirmation.

But special Omikron kits are already being tested in laboratories, said Nina Beikert from the ALM board of directors. “We assume that by the end of the week at the latest we will be able to carry out the additional PCR on the Omikron variant after the first PCR to determine an infection.” is present. The laboratory association announced the use in specific suspected cases, for example with travelers returning from certain regions or their contact persons.

The frequency with which variant-specific PCR tests have been carried out in the past few weeks seems to differ greatly from one region to another. While Ciesek reports on such tests in his house for every initial diagnosis, ALM board member Michael Müller said that this procedure had recently been “essentially discontinued” because of the great dominance of the Delta variant.

More contagious mutants

The course of the pandemic so far has shown that predominant variants can be replaced by more contagious mutants within a relatively short period of time. The alpha variant (B.1.1.7) was reported by Great Britain a few days before Christmas 2020. In Germany, their share continued to grow at the beginning of 2021. According to RKI data, the switch to the delta variant discovered in India took place very quickly in the summer. According to the data so far, this fuels the fourth wave to over 99 percent.

Sars-CoV-2 has now behaved differently several times than initially expected from a corona virus, the virologist Christian Drosten told the German Press Agency in the summer. “Alpha and Delta were absolute surprises.” No virologist had expected such massive increases in the transmission rate. “This has never been the case with any other virus.” It is still unclear whether Omikron means an even higher transmission rate or has other advantages – for example, when infecting convalescents or those who have been vaccinated. dpa

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