As families started to gather for the holiday season, news broke of a new COVID variant that has the potential to wreak havoc on lightened mitigations and spread like wildfire. The omicron variant has been detected in nearly 40 countries, including the United States. As news reports fly in, many people have been asking me what this all means. Below are four facts about omicron that I want you to know.
Viruses mutate and change, which can dramatically impact how serious and how contagious they are. We know omicron is highly contagious. We do not yet have enough data to determine its severity, but early reports out of Africa suggest symptoms may be mild to moderate for most people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of omicron are the same as previous COVID strains. The new strain has been confirmed in nearly 40 countries, and just this week, Omicron was identified in the United States.
Labs are able to identify which variant is present in a positive test, but don’t expect to see this on your test results. Patients will still see a simple positive or negative reading, because the specific variant type does not change the treatment options, symptoms, or precautions such as isolation timing.
Scientists are currently studying the omicron variant, which contains 24 changes to the spike protein. This is significantly more than with other variants, such as the delta variant, and as such, may require that people get an additional booster for protection. The good news is, a booster could be developed very quickly, perhaps in as little as six weeks. More information will be available in the coming days and weeks, but I do expect we’ll see additional boosters coming down the pipeline soon.
This is why vaccination is so important. Future iterations of COVID-19 have the potential to be more severe in nature. This could lead to more hospitalizations, or a higher death rate. At this point, we know omicron is highly contagious. It is yet to be seen how severe the symptoms are in comparison to previous variants. If you received your vaccine over six months ago, it’s time for a booster dose. If you are unvaccinated, please reconsider your choice and schedule a vaccine appointment at our Downers Grove clinic.
Our COVID clinics are now full respiratory health testing sites. If you are symptomatic, our providers will evaluate your symptoms (ears, nose, throat, lung) and order the appropriate tests. In addition to COVID/flu,this may include strep throat or mononucleosis (mono).