The first Omicron case detected in Georgia through SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance probably became infected during a visit to Cape Town, South Africa, according to a recent case report in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The patient was a woman in her 30s, who was fully vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNTech twice, then a booster in October 2021 – about six weeks before becoming sick. She had a negative PCR test shortly before traveling back to Georgia but developed symptoms around the time of her return flight.
The woman was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the end of November, a few days after her return to Georgia — just after Omicron was declared a Variant of Concern by the WHO.
This single case report is not representative of the overall severity of Omicron, which is generating a large number of infections, burdening hospitals in Georgia and elsewhere. The patient experienced muscle aches, nausea, fatigue and cough, but did not have a fever or shortness of breath and did not require hospitalization.
The lead authors of the case report were Marybeth Sexton, chief quality officer for the Emory Clinic, and infectious disease specialist Jesse Waggoner. The senior author was viral geneticist Anne Piantadosi.
The authors note: “Identifying this case required eliciting an appropriate travel history and being able to identify and perform sequencing for COVID patients in the community, since the patient had mild symptoms and did not seek clinical care.”
To speed detection of SARS-CoV-2 variants such as Omicron, the case report contains information about how to customize the “Spike SNP” PCR assay to give results within a few hours, rather than waiting for full viral sequencing taking 72 hours.
With the help of virologist Mehul Suthar’s lab, the authors were also able to report that the patient developed high levels of antiviral antibodies capable of neutralizing the Omicron variant. Currently available booster shots can elicit measurable antiviral antibody activity (see our recent post Thrice is nice), but actual Omicron infection generates way more.