How did the omicron variant get its name? And how do you pronounce it?

The WHO adopted the naming process for coronavirus variants to get away from naming viruses or variants after the places where they first came to prominence, which can be confusing and stigmatizing, USA Today reported.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told the publication.

Greek names are “easier and more practical to be discussed by non-scientific audiences,” WHO officials said. The scientific names of variants are still determined based on their genetic lineage and other factors.

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, the WHO will come up with another naming system.

ExploreA look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week

How do you pronounce omicron?

“Omicron” appeared on a list of 2021′s most mispronounced words compiled by the U.S. Captioning Company, the Associated Press reported.

So what’s the correct pronunciation? It depends.

In the United States, omicron is typically pronounced “ä-mə-krän” or “ō-mə-krän” according to Merriam-Webster. In Britain, it’s more often pronounced “ō-mī-krän.”

Omnicron, however, is straight out wrong.

“I don’t think it really matters that much, honestly,” said Apoorva Mandavilli, who reports on the coronavirus for a New York Times podcast.

ExploreWhat you need to know about omicron and COVID boosters

What is the omicron variant?

The omicron variant was first reported by researchers in South Africa on Nov. 24 after several doctors noticed symptoms among their patients that differed slightly compared to those caused by the delta variant, the dominant version of the germ spreading globally, McClatchy News reported.

Genetic sequencing revealed the variant sports a large number of mutations unseen in other variants.

Federal health officials confirmed the first omicron case in the U.S. on Dec. 1, in a fully vaccinated California resident who recently returned from South Africa, McClatchy News reported.

More than 73% of the new COVID-19 cases in the United States the week of Dec. 12 were from the omicron variant, the Associated Press reported.

Experts are still researching numerous questions about the omicron variant, including whether it causes more severe disease than other versions of the coronavirus.

Early data suggests vaccines still protect you against COVID-19 hospitalization and death, no matter the variant involved, but booster shots offer critical protection against infection compared to primary doses.

“All of us have a date with omicron,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Associated Press. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”

©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.