The omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in North Texas, Collin County Health Care Services and Tarrant County Public Health confirms.
According to Ayass Bioscience in Frisco, genetic sequencing tests confirmed two cases in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex over the weekend.
Dr. Mohamad Ayass of Ayass Bioscience told NBC 5 that the first patient, a 40-year-old man, had a fever and a cough. He had not traveled in the last three months and had no underlying symptoms. Collin County Health Care Services later confirmed this information to NBC 5.
The second patient, a 35-year-old man, worked in healthcare and decided to get tested because of his work, Ayass said. He had no symptoms, but he tested positive for the omicron variant. Tarrant County Public Health later confirmed this information to NBC 5.
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Both patients had received the first two doses of the Pfizer vaccine but had not gotten a booster. They reported mild symptoms.
Ayass said the lab will submit the test results to the state health department.
How Omicron Variant is Detected
Ayass Bioscience Vice President and Principal Scientist Dr. Lina Abi Mosleh said they process about 1,500 COVID-19 PCR tests for more than 30 area doctors, urgent care clinics and hospitals every day.
In January, they started genomic sequencing, which is not as simple as looking at cells under a microscope.
They run COVID samples through large machines, giving them a printout that reveals any differences in the genetic code.
"Sequencing is like reading. When you read a paragraph, you put letters together, and you are able to make a sentence," said Abi Mosleh.
"Then you can tell, at the end, based on the sequence of those letters, if it's Omicron, if it's Delta, if it's Delta plus or any other variant."
Omicron has already been detected in Houston and as it spreads, public health leaders will look at how contagious it is, whether treatments work and whether boosters can prevent another surge.
"There's really no reason or way that it's not here in Texas or DFW. It's really flying under our radar, so that means there's a low amount of cases, but it's probably here and starting to spread," said UT School of Public Health epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina.
Omicron First Detected in Harris County
A Houston-area woman was confirmed this week as having the state's first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19. The Harris County woman is in her 40s and had no recent travel history, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday on social media. No other information on the woman and her case was reported.
Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how quickly it will spread.
Scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. Omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may overwhelm hospitals.
But U.S. health officials said Sunday that while the omicron variant is rapidly spreading throughout the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations.
According to Ayass Bioscience, the omicron variant has 60 mutations, with 30 on the spike protein, reportedly enhancing its ability to infect people.
The Frisco lab also said that preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with omicron as compared to other variants.