LSU Health experts use genomic sequencing to identify Omicron variant in Louisiana

The omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected in Louisiana on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected in Louisiana on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 3:05 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2021 at 7:06 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Following the announcement of the Omicron variant’s presence in Louisiana, health experts are preparing for its spread to other parts of the state, including northwest Louisiana.

Inside LSU Health, experts are testing positive samples to determine the variant through the sequencing process.

“If we get a priority sample, then we’ll be able to turn it around in less than 48 hours,” said Dr. Krista Queen, director of viral genomics and surveillance for LSU Health.

Dr. Queen says while this new variant has more mutations than others, her team is much more equipped this time around.

“We ordered new kits that will let us run even faster,” she said.

Sequencing is a multi-step process that includes using robotic technology to help make the process faster, more efficient and to reduce human error.

“If you imagine, the genome of coronaviruses is like a book. We’re reading each and every letter and we’re looking for changes, changes to the original virus. We’re looking at each individual base, or letter, for the virus to see if those changes are present. If they are, that indicates that it’s Omicron; then we’ll notify the Louisiana Department of Health,” Dr. Queen said.

This behind-the-scenes work is crucial to containing and understanding the variant.

“The quicker [LDH] knows, the quicker they can implement additional quarantining, if necessary,” said Dr. Queen.

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