• Somya Maan

Omicron - Is it really that mild?



What is omicron?

The SARS CoV-2 [COVID] variant B.1.1.529 named Omicron was announced as a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO on 26th November 2021 on South Africa’s advice; where it was first discovered, and is now breaking daily records. Many use the word “mild” while describing the variant but does it really hold true? Well, in short, No.


Omicron brings new challenges and is particularly dangerous because of the following reasons:

  1. Number & Types of mutation: When a virus mutates, it threatens the efficacy of the vaccine. The preliminary data about omicron has revealed lower vaccine effectiveness, suggesting around 30%-40% at preventing infections and 70% at preventing severe disease.

  2. Speed of spread: The R nought value currently is 2.69 in India, meaning a single carrier can infect 2.69 people. In an environment with no control measures, Omicron would spread devastatingly quickly.

Differences between the Omicron and Delta variant:

  1. The Omicron variant is less severe than the Delta variant.

  2. The risk of emergency hospitalization for Omicron cases is one-third that of Delta infected cases.

  3. Omicron’s transmissibility is estimated to be three to five times greater than Delta’s


Symptoms

Initial symptoms resemble the common cold; headaches, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and frequent sneezing. Symptoms like fever, cough and loss of smell are now in the ‘minority’. Most people don’t have classic symptoms, as shown by preliminary studies.

That being said, some of the most common symptoms reported in Omicron-infected people so far are mild fever, fatigue, scratchy throat, body pain and night sweats, without any sign of an impaired sense of smell and taste.


Is it really mild?

The million dollar question, and the answer is that Omicron may be less severe in young and old than Delta was, but not 'mild'.

WHO Director general Tedros Chebreyesus said the variant should not be considered "mild" as global infections soar, healthcare systems are overwhelmed and governments struggle to tame the virus, which has killed more than 5-8 million people.

Omicron’s mild nature is more due to the protection offered by vaccines. Mild symptoms notwithstanding, its higher transmissibility can pose a severe threat to healthcare settings, as a high number of infections within a short time could lead to more people needing hospital care. Getting misled by ‘the mild nature’ of the disease and throwing caution to the wind will be a dangerous gamble.

Mild doesn’t mean that it’s harmless as people are still landing in ICUs


Solutions (as suggested by Doctors)

  • Booster doses can increase antibodies and the ability of a person's immune system to protect against Omicron.


  • The best masks to wear are N95s , KN95 and KF94 masks offering better protection than cloth masks.

  • Discard the conventional wisdom that it takes 10 to 15 minutes of exposure with someone closer than 6 feet to get infected.

  • Test more often.

  • If you are indoors, ventilation and vaccination reduce risk.

 

~ Somya Maan

SOURCES: THE HINDU, TOI, WHO, THE PRINT