We do know that it has what we call a growth

Omicron symptoms: What new Covid variant research shows us so far

Vismita Gupta-Smith

We’re doing an update on Omicron in Science in 5 today. Hello, I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith and we are talking to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove. Is Omicron more severe? Is it more transmissible? And how can you protect yourself? Welcome, Maria. Maria, what do we know so far about the transmissibility of Omicron?

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

So, thanks Vismita for having me. We’re learning a lot about the Omicron variant every day. In terms of transmissibility, we are seeing a really increased growth rate of Omicron over other variants of concern. These are some of the sharpest increases that we’ve seen to date. We do know that it has what we call a growth advantage over Delta. And what this means is that we’re seeing a large increase in cases where Omicron is detected. At the time of filming this Omicron has been detected in more than 77 countries, but it’s likely that it’s present in other countries as well. The big question right now is how will Omicron compete with other variants that are circulating in populations? For example, will Omicron outcompete Delta or not? It’s still a little bit early for us to have a full understanding, but what we can say is that some of the mutations that are identified in Omicron will provide a growth advantage, will allow it to be more transmissible. So, this is a concern that we have and as we know, more cases, if there’s more increased transmissibility, which is what we are seeing, we’ll have more cases. More cases mean more hospitalizations and more hospitalizations can put health care systems that are already overburdened into a state where people will not get the appropriate care that they need.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Maria, does Omicron cause more severe disease? And what are the symptoms we are seeing so far?

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Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

We’re still learning about severity as well. We do know that people with Omicron can have the full spectrum of disease, everything from asymptomatic infection, mild infection, people needing hospitalization, and people have died from Omicron. We do have initial reports that suggest that Omicron is less severe compared to Delta. However, if again, if we have more cases, more cases mean more hospitalizations, and if a health care system is overburdened, people will die because they won’t get the appropriate care that they need. So, it’s early to tell whether or not Omicron is more or less severe, but we do have some initial reports that it is less severe. Now, don’t be fooled. Even if we have a virus that causes less severe disease, this virus can affect vulnerable populations. And we know people with underlying conditions, people of advanced age, if they are infected with any variant of SARS-CoV-2, including Omicron, they are at an increased risk of developing severe disease. So, it is really critical that even if we do see more mild disease, we still do everything that we can to reduce transmission in all populations, people who are vaccinated, as well as people who are not vaccinated. In terms of disease presentation, there are many studies that are underway that are looking at this and people who are infected with Omicron compared to other variants. We have not seen a change in the disease profile. For example, we haven’t seen a change in the symptoms that people present with Omicron compared to Delta. So you won’t be able to tell the difference. So, the best thing for you to do is to keep yourself safe, get vaccinated when you can and make sure that you take steps to reduce your exposure to this virus

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