As 2022 rolls in, it seems like just about everyone knows someone with a COVID-19 infection. We can chalk that up, in part, to the Omicron variant, a new and fast-spreading strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID.
Omicron was first reported by the World Health Organization in South Africa and has quickly spread worldwide. Less than two months after it was identified, Omicron has become the dominant strain in the U.S. According to a report in early January, it now makes up more than 95 percent of cases. COVID cases rose to 1 million a day in the first week of 2022, primarily due to Omicron’s spread.
How Contagious Is Omicron?
Evidence indicates that Omicron spreads more easily than previous variants. Omicron appears to have a shorter incubation period than other strains. Early research also suggests that Omicron is better than earlier variants at avoiding our body’s immune defenses, including vaccination and past infection. According to the WHO, preliminary research suggests an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron. Patients who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered can become reinfected more easily with Omicron. The new variant also appears to infect vaccinated individuals more quickly than other strains. However, vaccines help most patients avoid the virus’s more severe effects.
Is Omicron “Milder” Than Other Strains?
According to the American Medical Association, preliminary studies of the Omicron variant suggest that infections may be less severe than those associated with Delta. However, we should avoid becoming complacent or dismissing the new variant. In short, it’s not “just a cold,” even though it may feel like it in some mild cases. Because of Omicron’s higher transmission levels, U.S. COVID hospitalizations continue to rise. If significantly more people are getting sick, there’s a higher chance of severe illness, even if the strain itself is milder.
COVID hospitalizations reached a high of 142,000 in January of 2021 then dropped dramatically this summer and continued to fall as vaccination numbers jumped. However, in early January of 2022, they once again crossed the 100,000 mark.
What Are The Symptoms of Omicron?
One of COVID-19’s “signature” symptoms has been the loss of taste and smell. However, it presents much less frequently with the Omicron variant. Symptoms of Omicron infection include sore throat, headache, body aches, cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose. For fully vaccinated individuals, Omicron symptoms are usually mild.
Can I Still Get Omicron If I’m Fully Vaccinated?
Because Omicron has found ways to get around our bodies’ immune defenses, we see more breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated individuals. However, vaccination remains the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. It also still creates a barrier against infection compared with unvaccinated individuals. A Danish study published in December suggests that getting a booster shot can reduce the chance of infection, even with Omicron. And a significant majority of hospitalizations are still among unvaccinated individuals. According to the CDC, if you’re unvaccinated, you’re eight times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID. Even if you’re fully vaccinated, continue mitigation protocols including masking, social distancing and handwashing.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have A COVID-19 Infection?
If you have COVID symptoms, it’s best to get tested so that you can quarantine and alert close contacts. However, if your symptoms are mild, it’s critical to avoid emergency rooms. This allows hospitals to save staffing and beds for the sickest patients. Instead, contact your primary care provider. Comprehensive Primary Care offices around the DMV offer rapid testing in our offices to help you get fast and accurate answers. If you have more severe symptoms, we can recommend treatments that may help keep you out of the hospital. We ask our patients to get vaccinated, stay vigilant and observe public health protocols. Our staff remains committed to helping you along the way and optimistic about long-term community health prospects for 2022.