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Doctor: COVID likely here to stay, people should be prepared for further mutations

As the omicron variant sweeps across Louisiana, Dr. Lucio Miele, Chair of the Department of Genetics at LSU Health, said future variants are possible as the virus continues to replicate in humans.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 6:31 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As Louisiana continues to post record numbers of positive COVID cases, Dr. Lucio Miele of LSU Health said the omicron variant is likely one of many mutations of the virus still to come.

“I don’t think the virus is going to disappear completely, I just don’t,” said Dr. Miele, Chair of the Department of Genetics at LSU Health. “I think it’s going to keep coming. Hopefully, adapting to us as we adapt to it, so that we’re going to have a less severe illness in the majority of people.”

Miele said that due to the widespread nature of the virus, it likely won’t stop mutating. The pool of potential human hosts is large, and studies have shown the virus has the capacity to infect animals as well.

Getting vaccinated remains key to cutting down on the number of humans available to carry the virus and allow it to mutate, along with wearing a mask and social distancing. With high rates of vaccination, the population builds a level of partial immunity.

“The longer it replicates in individual humans, the more likely it is to find mutations that help create a new variant,” Miele said.

Omicron is more contagious than the delta variant that crippled Louisiana’s healthcare system but less severe, meaning the people who are infected with it tend to experience cold-like symptoms. But could it be possible that in the future a variant has the contagiousness of omicron and the severity of delta?

Miele said it’s possible, but by decreasing the number of people who are infected with the virus, we can stave off that possibility.

“We just have to hope that combination of mutations doesn’t occur, and the way we can decrease the likelihood of that happening is decreasing transmission to the extent that we can,” he said.

As for herd immunity, experts said reaching the threshold is likely easier said than done, so people shouldn’t go out and purposefully get infected with omicron to “get it over with.”

“Do we know that in the future there isn’t gonna be another variant that can re-infect somebody who had omicron? We have no idea,” Miele said. “So there is absolutely zero guarantee that if you catch omicron now, you’re gonna be resistant to some other variant that appears in the future.”

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