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Omicron Symptoms Might Not Be As Severe As Expected, Experts Say


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Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Omicron Might Not Be Serve

Omicron’s sudden appearance and subsequent upheaval of Delta’s dominance had many public health professionals quite worried when it was first detected in South Africa. Now, they’re dialing back those apocalyptic claims in light of new emerging evidence.

While the Omicron variant certainly travels faster than any of its predecessors, it might not necessarily be more lethal than COVID-19 variations of the past.

As of last week, Omicron is officially being held responsible for 73% of all coronavirus cases in the United States currently. With so many cases being reported, researchers have access to a lot of new information about how Omicron operates.

New Omicron Symptoms to Look Out For

Omicron, according to one recent report[1] released by the Centers for Disease Control, states that many early Omicron infections appear to be relatively mild, especially when compared to the tragedy that the first few waves of the pandemic brought upon us.

They do include a caveat to this affirmation, however. Despite the fact that Omicron actually appears to be much less severe than Delta or the original coronavirus, its rates of transmission put our healthcare system in a dangerous and precarious predicament. This report paints a picture of hospitals overrun with Omicron cases, many more than they’re equipped to handle at once. 

This warning applies more to the long-term than our current situation, but, still, one to heed, especially as we continue on into the New Year and the coming winter months. 

The CDC also emphasizes how progressively more important sequencing, contact tracing, and other data collection efforts are in the fight against Omicron and the coronavirus overall. The more that we know, the more effectively we’ll be able to contend with each new development in our plight.

On average, every single week, the CDC sponsors the genomic sequencing of anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 positive specimens hailing from new COVID cases nationwide. Nearly everything that we know about the spread of Omicron in the United States comes as a direct result of this collaborative effort.

Key Differences Between Omicron, Delta, and COVID-19

Much of what we already know about COVID-19 can be applied to Omicron, as well. 

Masking and social distancing are still two perfectly viable ways to protect yourself, for example. Testing, quarantine, and self-isolation are all still highly recommended to those who feel symptomatic after a possible exposure to Omicron.

Some startling new Omicron symptoms are making headlines nationwide, however—it appears to cause flu-like and cold-like symptoms in many of these early cases[2], including:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain and discomfort
  • Fever

While many of these claims are personal and self-reported, the sheer numbers themselves don’t lie. We’ll have to wait and see for some hard, analytical data. In the coming months, we’ll be able to see exactly how valid these individual claims are across the board.

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you still may fall victim to the Omicron variant, much like the original coronavirus itself. All of the symptoms above have been reported in plenty of patients[3] who were fully vaccinated when they contracted the virus. 

As Omicron evolves away from the original coronavirus strain, other changes in its presentation have been documented by both patients and physicians:

  • The Omicron variant’s most well-known mutation is a “spike”[4] organelle — while the original coronavirus included a vestigial precursor to this appendage, Omicron has distinguished itself with 32 additional mutations to its structure as of the time of this writing.
  • This spike organ is what allows the Omicron variant to bypass neutralizing antibodies from even a full round of COVID vaccination; it’s been credited as the key to Omicron’s unprecedented rates of transmission and spread.
  • Omicron victims don’t seem to be subject to one of the coronavirus’s most famous and bizarre symptoms, the temporary loss of taste and smell.

As time wears on, all of the mysteries associated with Omicron continue to unravel. We’re armed with the facts, and this arsenal only stands to become more powerful with every new insight. 

Above all else, the CDC recommends that every person over the age of five receives a complete COVID vaccination series. While a breakthrough case is always possible, complete vaccination supplemented by a booster shot appears to be the most reliable way[5] to keep you and your family safe.

What Should You Do if You Suspect That You’ve Contracted Omicron?

If you’re already fully vaccinated and practicing good social hygiene, you’re likely in the clear. Avoiding crowded places full of strangers and other high-risk situations is one way that you can reduce your risk of infection significantly.

Still, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you think that you may have contracted Omicron after possible exposure, examine yourself for the symptoms listed above and reach out to your doctor if you’re concerned. 

The official protocol[6] for a possible Omicron infection includes roughly the following:

  1. When experiencing symptoms, try to quarantine yourself for at least ten days. Isolate from friends, family, and even the other members of your household until you can get tested.
  2. Get tested for COVID-19, with a take-home kit, at a clinic or a doctor’s office, or at any pop-up COVID testing sites that may be operating in your city. A second rapid home test is one way to confirm your suspicions completely.
  3. If you test positive, contact your employer and anybody that you’ve been in contact with since you first noticed your symptoms. You should also contact the school or schools of any children that you have. Participate in any contact tracing outreach effort that comes your way, as well.
  4. Pay your doctor a visit and adhere to the treatment plan that he or she prescribes.
  5. Remain in quarantine until you have recovered completely, for at least ten additional days.

Despite the few marginal differences between Omicron and the original strain, the experts assure us that, with all of the right cautionary measures in place, Omicron stands no chance. For the latest on Omicron and everything else COVID-related, stay tuned to each of the CDC’s preferred channels of communication.

+ 6 sources

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  1. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 (Omicron) Variant -United States. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/pdfs/mm7050e1-H.pdf [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021].
  2. Edwards, E. (2021). Omicron symptoms: What new Covid variant research shows us so far. [online] NBC News. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/omicron-symptoms-covid-what-to-know-rcna9469 [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021].
  3. Rodriguez, K. (2021). The omicron variant symptoms to look out for if you are fully vaccinated. [online] nj. Available at: https://www.nj.com/coronavirus/2021/12/the-omicron-variant-symptoms-to-look-out-for-if-you-are-fully-vaccinated.html [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021].
  4. Callaway, E. and Ledford, H. (2021). How bad is Omicron? What scientists know so far. Available at https://www.icpcovid.com/sites/default/files/2021-12/Ep%20197-2%20How%20bad%20is%20Omicron_%20What%20scientists%20know%20so%20far.pdf [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021]
  5. Kimball, S. (2021). Pfizer and BioNTech say booster dose provides high level of protection against omicron variant in initial lab study. [online] CNBC. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/08/pfizer-biontech-say-booster-dose-provides-high-level-of-protection-against-omicron-variant.html [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021].
  6. You Tested Positive for Covid. Now What?. (2021). The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/article/testing-positive-covid-omicron-variant.html [Accessed 23 Dec. 2021].

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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