A Nigerian scientist has spent the holiday season in his lab doing gene sequencing to learn more about the country’s COVID-19 variant, as cases increase in the country.
Virologist Sunday Omilabu says the information he is collecting on the variant will help fight the spread of the disease in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 196 million people.
Nigeria has confirmed 89,163 cases of COVID-19, including 1,302 deaths, according to figures released Sunday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The variants found in the UK and South Africa are very different from the variants found in Nigeria,” said Omilabu, who said it was not unusual for viruses to mutate and cause variants.
Nigeria is seeing more COVID-19 infections, but it is not yet certain whether this is from the variant, said Omilabu, director of the Center for Human and Zoonotic Virology at the University College of Medicine and University Hospital. from Lagos.
“What we could say clinically is that we have more people with severe signs and symptoms,” he said, describing how one person can spread the disease to four or five limbs. family, which is a higher rate of transmission than recorded. earlier.
“It shows us that something is happening. There’s a surge so we’re recording that but we haven’t sequenced any of those isolates yet, ”to determine if the increase in transmissions is caused by the variant, Omilabu said.
“I think we need to calm our minds, there will be other variations to come,” he said.
“We have to watch the virus, we have to sequence. If we sequence, we would have more information about what is in circulation and of course we have to continue monitoring, we have to monitor the level of virus activity in the environment … so public health experts , they have work to do and then the government has to support it all.
While lab work is underway to learn more about the variant, Nigerians must remain vigilant to avoid spreading the virus, he said.
“People are always going to party. They always go to the club and without putting on a face mask, ”he said.
“We’re talking about social distancing, people don’t respect that. We are talking about using face masks. People don’t do that. You see them in the markets, they don’t. So how do you control it now? “
With the emergence of COVID-19 variants in Nigeria and South Africa, the World Health Organization has said Africa needs to do more genetic sequencing, like what Omilabu is doing.
“The emergence of new variants of COVID-19 is common. However, those with higher transmission speed or potentially increased pathogenicity are of great concern. Critical investigations are underway to comprehensively understand the behavior of the novel mutant virus and guide the response accordingly, ”said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The new variants have emerged as COVID-19 infections rise in all 47 African countries, almost reaching the peak the continent experienced in July, she said.
In the past 28 days, 10 countries – South Africa, Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and Uganda – reported the highest number of new cases, accounting for 90% of all infections in Africa, she said.
The new variant of the virus in South Africa is now the most dominant there and appears to be more contagious, according to John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this week, South Africa surpassed one million confirmed cases and is leading the new wave of COVID-19 on the continent, which “returns with a vengeance,” Nkengasong said Thursday.
“Variants are a hallmark of this type of RNA virus,” Nkengasong said at a press briefing.
“The more we do sequencing of this virus, the more variants we will see… We remain optimistic that the different vaccines will remain effective against these variants.”