Omicron causes less severe disease than delta, but that doesn’t mean it’s ‘just a cold’

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Compared with the delta variant, omicron causes less severe disease for patients, according to data shared this month by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a . 

Walensky cited a published recently that looked at data from about 52,000 people infected with the omicron variant, and about 17,000 infected with delta, in southern California. Compared with patients who had the delta variant, omicron patients had a 53% reduced risk of hospitalization, a 74% reduced risk of ICU admission and a 91% reduced risk of death. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Also, Walensky said, none of the people infected with omicron in the study required mechanical ventilation. This backs up another study from  who found that while extremely contagious, omicron isn’t as good at replicating in the lungs as delta, likely leading to less severe disease. 

The new research also adds to what researchers from many other countries have found: Though than any other variant, omicron doesn’t seem to be making people quite as sick as the delta variant did. And when it does make people sick enough to require hospitalization, those hospital stays tend to be shorter, Walensky noted. 

But shorter hospital stays doesn’t mean no hospital stays, and it certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t people still dying from COVID-19. The huge number of people getting infected with COVID-19 will also strain hospital systems — in many states — which could affect care and the outcomes for people who do need to be hospitalized. And overwhelmed hospitals don’t only affect COVID-19 patients,  who needs care for something that could turn serious or even fatal if left untreated.

Comparing omicron with the delta variant should also come with the understanding that the delta variant is believed to be that cause COVID-19, and also more likely to put people in the hospital. That is, we’re comparing omicron with a very serious illness. Dr. Eric Topol, a physician and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, that  “less severe” is a better way to describe omicron than “milder.” 

“‘Milder’ caught on early, and I think it’s unfortunate it’s given this impression, because there’s so many people dying and winding up in the ICU,” Topol told The Guardian. 

In addition to omicron’s incredible degree of transmissibility or contagiousness compared with earlier variants, the new variant is also leading to many breakthrough cases in people who are fully vaccinated, and reinfections in people who’ve already had COVID-19. In order to lessen the burden of large numbers of people getting sick at once, health officials are encouraging everyone eligible (age 12 and up) to  and get a COVID-19 booster shot. 

Omicron has been causing  of COVID-19 cases in the US, and this “staggering” daily case rate has led to a high number of total hospitalizations, Walensky said. Data from other countries will continue to provide understanding on what we can expect in the coming weeks when COVID-19 cases are predicted to peak in the US, Walensky said. 

“I want to underscore the importance that the up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination with boosters prevents severe disease and keeps you out of the hospital,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, said Wednesday. 

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As scientists continue to learn more about omicron each day, and adjust guidance accordingly, here’s what we know about the new variant and COVID-19 symptoms now. 

What is a mutation or variant? 

Some  are similar to ones found in the delta variant, according to South Africa’s Department of Health, as well as mutations found in the alpha, gamma and beta variants — all classified as .

Omicron has more mutations on its spike protein than the delta variant does, but scientists are working to understand what that means.

The coronavirus enters our cells using its “corona,” or layer of protein spikes, then makes copies of itself in our bodies, where inevitably there are some errors or mutations, as explained by . Sometimes those mutations in the virus are harmless, but other times — as in the case of the delta and omicron variants — they make it much easier for the virus to spread from person to person and infect more people. 

The more people who are unvaccinated or without immunity from COVID-19, the more opportunities there are for the coronavirus to spread and form concerning variants. 

“I think what you’re seeing is just the manifestation of what we’ve been talking about,”  in November. “Why it is so important for people to get vaccinated, and for those who are fully vaccinated to get boosted.”

Apart from vaccine hesitancy, many people in countries outside the US don’t have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. According to Our World in Data, have received a dose of coronavirus vaccine. 

“The emergence of the omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue,” South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, . 

At a recent press briefing, terbaik sumatera White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said the US has shipped 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses out for donation, a milestone, he said, in the White House  of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. 

In fully vaccinated and boosted people, especially, omicron is causing mild cases of COVID-19 that can mimic run-of-the-mill cold symptoms. 

In a Dec. 10 report by the CDC, the symptoms of 43 omicron cases (some of the first reported in the US) were described. When it came to common symptoms, most people (89%) reported a cough, 65% were fatigued and 59% of them were congested or had a runny nose. Only 8% of the 43 people reported losing their sense of smell or taste, which has affected many people with previous COVID-19 infections, caused by other variants. Fourteen percent of people in the report had COVID-19 previously. 

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor who helped discover omicron, in late November that the early symptoms she saw in patients included fatigue, headache and a scratchy throat, she said, not the telltale loss of smell or a cough associated with earlier COVID-19 infections. 

Cough and loss of smell are also less common symptoms of COVID-19 compared with earlier variants, per the , a Mayo Clinic network. Cold symptoms like a headache and runny nose are now more common symptoms of COVID-19, according to the UK’s .

How do you test for omicron? 

A COVID-19 test won’t tell you which variant you have. In order for scientists to determine whether it’s omicron or another coronavirus variant, the CDC uses . According to Walensky, the CDC director, the US is now testing 80,000 positive COVID-19 samples per week (about one in seven positive tests), .

Fortunately, the omicron variant is , according to Fauci, which can then be confirmed through labs that use genomic sequencing. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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