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The number of omicron variant cases is growing in Houston

Houston Methodist hospital has identified eight omicron cases, will study variant for transmissibility and severity

Houston Methodist has identified eight cases of the omicron variant through genomic sequencing, the hospital announced late Wednesday night.

Until now, COVID-19 sequencing has shown 100% delta variants since earlier this year. Experts are concerned omicron may be more infectious than even the highly contagious delta variant, said Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist.

The omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, appears to have more than 30 mutations in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people. The variant has been identified in at least 20 U.S. states and more than 50 countries.

The first omicron case in Texas was detected in the Houston area on Monday. There, a 40-year-old woman with no recent travel history tested positive for the variant, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The woman is fully vaccinated and experienced COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. She has not required hospitalization.

“The fact that the patient did not have a travel history means she picked it up in the community. So it’s here, it has been here probably for a week or two,” said Catherine Troisi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The city also detected the omicron variant in eight of its wastewater treatment facilities, city health department officials said Tuesday. That type of surveillance, done in partnership with Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, has helped Houston recognize that the new variant is spreading in multiple parts of the city.

Houston Methodist researchers now can study omicron cases to determine its transmissibility and severity, as well as how the vaccines will hold up against it. Houston Methodist has sequenced over 60,000 SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re in a race against the variants,” Long said in a statement. “To stop the COVID-19 virus dead in its tracks, we can’t stress enough how critically important it is for everyone in the community to get completely vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Remember, this includes boosters or a third shot if you are eligible,” he said. “Continue to take extra precautions in the meantime, such as wearing masks, socially distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and if you feel sick, self-isolating until you can be tested for COVID-19.”

Pfizer announced Wednesday that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine may protect against the new variant even though the initially two doses of the vaccine appear less effective.

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