MUSC watching closely for omicron COVID-19 variant through sequencing

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – With the omicron COVID-19 variant popping up in several parts of the world, and now the U.S., doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina are working to see if it is here in the state.

MUSC lab staff said they have been working 24/7 to track COVID-19 mutations and variants. Now, that means watching closely for the omicron variant.

Dr. Julie Hirschhorn, the Director of Molecular Pathology at MUSC, said they began checking positive patient samples early in the week after the World Health Organization deemed omicron a variant of concern.

In the lab, they use sequencing to look for variants or mutations in the sample.

As of Wednesday, MUSC officials said they did not see omicron in their samples, mostly delta. They will continue to run the samples each week.

Hirschhorn said some of omicron’s characteristics are concerning.

“Just this handful of mutations in the S gene caused delta to be more transmissible, and omicron has about three times as many,” explained Hirschhorn.

The doctor said if they do spot omicron in their samples, the first step would be to collect the patient’s metadata, including their zip code to see exactly where the variant is.

After that, they would notify the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lowcountry doctors said with this new variant, it is important to get a COVID-19 booster.

“This is a better way that we can protect ourselves and the community, during the winter months,” said Dr. Kay Durst with Roper St. Francis.

Durst said for Pfizer and Moderna, the booster should be taken six months after the second shot. It is recommended to come two months after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson.

She said your booster doesn’t have to be the same as your original doses.

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