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Ómicron is a rehearsal for the next epidemic

In any other context, it wouldn’t be great: On Sunday, November 28, a San Francisco resident who was feeling slightly ill was tested for COVID-19. The next day, it came back positive.

However, what set off the alarm was that this individual had recently returned from South Africa, where the newly discovered omicron variant had spread.

The sample from the person who traveled was marked for priority genetic sequencing that would reveal the genetic code of the virus that infected them, as well as determine if they had telltale omicron mutations.

Chiu, a microbiologist in San Francisco, was selected to perform the sequencing. At 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 30, a few hours after Chiu first learned of the sample, he personally delivered it to his lab, packed in dry ice.

Chiu and his colleagues soon got to work. Although creating the entire sequence takes hours, the scientists opted for a technique known as nano-sequencing, which allowed them to analyze the results in real time, while the process was still going on.

“As the data accumulated, we were able to identify more and more mutations,” Chiu recalls.

Before dawn, he was certain: he is an omicron, and he was The first case has been detected in the United States. It’s been less than a week since South Africa publicly announced the existence of the surrogate.

We cannot fight what we cannot see, and preventing the next pandemic begins with discovering and monitoring the pathogens that threaten us. In that sense, at least, “we’re significantly better than last year,” said Joseph Fofer, a genetic epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

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