Omicron is the latest variant of the coronavirus to raise concerns about the course of the pandemic in the U.S. and around the world. Here’s what we know so far about the variant first detected in southern Africa.
What is a viral variant?
Viral variants are new versions of a virus that arise due to small changes in its genetic code. Over the course of the pandemic, there have been many variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but only a handful of note, including the Delta variant, and, most recently, the B.1.1.529 variant, also known as the Omicron variant. Most changes in the genetic code, or mutations, don’t really affect how the virus operates, but sometimes they can give the virus an advantage and allow it to spread more easily. Variants that are able to spread more efficiently become more prevalent, while others fizzle out.