How bad is Omicron? Here’s what to watch for

The situation with the Omicron variant is changing so quickly that it’s hard to know where things stand.

The news sometimes seems ominous as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the burden in the US has risen from 0.7% to 73% of new infections in just two weeks.

In other cases, the news seems encouraging, as South African officials observed that omicron cases appeared to be declining almost as dramatically as they had been increasing.

How can we tell what’s really going on? Which indicators show the true strengths of the variant?

And when will we know if Omicron represents a pandemic setback, a catastrophe, or a total disaster?

Here’s a look at what to look out for.

What’s the worst that could happen?

We were able to learn that Omicron is not only about 22 times more transmissible than the original strain of coronavirus from Wuhan, China, but also causes more severe disease that undermines immunity provided by vaccines or previous infection and is resistant to existing treatments.

What about the best case scenario?

That would be if Omicron infections cause little to no illness in most or all of those infected. Even with high transmission rates and a large number of “breakthrough” cases, a variant that causes little more than a runny nose or a few days of fatigue could be hailed as the onset of endemics — a state in which the virus will remain with us indefinitely . And that could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

Is that likely?

For this best-case scenario to materialize, Omicron would need to break the coronavirus’ nasty habit of causing serious illness and death in the elderly or medically vulnerable. It would also need to stop causing “long COVID” – a mysterious condition with a range of lingering symptoms including an inability to exercise, trouble sleeping and brain fog – in more than half of those who have eliminated the virus.

It would also be nice if an infection leaves immunity for at least a few months or gives long-term immunity after multiple infections. For a few decades, babies, seniors, and people with high-risk conditions could be vaccinated to prevent severe cases of COVID-19. But eventually, while babies would continue to receive the vaccine’s short-term protection, most people who are exposed to the virus year after year would allow them to get through an infection without much worry.

This is basically the truce humanity has reached with four other coronaviruses causing what we call the common cold.

What should we pay attention to?

Some pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fill in. Researchers at Imperial College London have estimated that Omicron is 5.4 times more likely to cause reinfection than the Delta variant. This means that the impact of negative trends will be amplified.

How much worse it could be depends on the next information that emerges. It is important to find out who Omicron infects and in whom it causes severe illness or death.

Additionally, knowing when — and for how long — people infected with Omicron are contagious is crucial to avoid overwhelming the ailing healthcare sector, said Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

When will we know?

The next two to eight weeks will be critical, said University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm. With his transmission superpowers, Omicron will likely unleash a “national blizzard” of cases, he said. No region should be spared, Omicron is simply too popular for that.

How will we know if Omicron makes people sicker?

In the United States, hospitalizations are the currency most commonly used to judge disease severity. Hospital treatment ranges from routine to critical care, and a patient’s journey is usually well documented compared to illness at home.

But epidemiologists call hospitalizations a “lagging indicator” of a virus’ virulence. Assuming that Omicron’s many mutations have not changed the basic attack pattern of the coronavirus, it usually takes a week or two after the first symptoms appear for a COVID-19 patient to become sufficiently ill to require hospitalization must become. Death usually occurs within 30 days, although many patients endure longer.

The trend that will begin to tell the story of Omicron’s virulence is a ratio. The researchers calculate the number of new Omicron infections reported on Day X and compare it to the number of Omicron hospitalizations about two weeks later. They also calculate the ratio of new cases reported on Day X to COVID-19 deaths caused by Omicron three to four weeks later.

“We know there’s a problem if that ratio changes,” Hotez said.

One thing to note: if Omicron is more likely than previous strains to cause asymptomatic infections or extremely mild illness, and those patients are not tested, it could mess up the calculation in a way that overestimates Omicron’s ability to make people sick .

What is happening abroad and what can that tell us?

The experiences of other countries where Omicron has been around longer may provide early clues as to what may lie ahead. But different health care systems, immunization status, and population demographics make the comparisons imperfect.

This week, the World Health Organization reported that hospital admissions in South Africa and the United Kingdom continued to rise, and said it was “possible” their healthcare systems would be overwhelmed. However, the WHO also noted that data on the clinical severity of omicron infections is “still limited”.

Previous data from South Africa suggested that omicron infections could cause milder disease and result in reduced need for supplemental oxygen and hospitalizations. And a preliminary study published Wednesday on science platform MedRxiv found that vaccinated South African healthcare workers who had breakthrough infections with Omicron were slightly less likely to need intensive hospital care than those whose breakthrough infections were caused by the delta or beta variants were caused.

A seated woman has her throat wiped by a doctor

A woman has a throat swab taken to test for coronavirus infection in Soweto, South Africa.

(Denis Farrell / Associated Press)

The UK Health Security Agency this week reported 45,145 confirmed Omicron cases in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with 129 hospital admissions and 14 deaths likely to be linked to the new strain. But cases could easily be three times that number, the agency acknowledged. This uncertainty about how many Omicron cases there really are makes it difficult to establish an accurate case-to-hospitalization ratio.

What would it mean if Omicron made different groups of people sick?

Do men still die slightly more often than women? Is COVID-19 still a disease most likely to cause illness and death in the elderly? Are asymptomatic infections still typical in children? Over the coming weeks and months, researchers will be sifting through medical records and revisiting existing groups of study participants to find answers to questions like these.

They will also be watching for changes in the way omicron infections play out to see if typical symptoms such as runaway inflammation, blood clotting abnormalities and lung damage remain key features of COVID-19. These results could indicate important factors that make some people more susceptible to omicron and therefore in greater need of immunization.

what about kids

South African researchers reported early on that children are more likely to be hospitalized when infected with Omicron – a trend that differs from previous variants and will be closely monitored.

If younger patients are generally less likely to become ill, it will be important to determine whether they remain effective virus spreaders.

Will vaccines still work?

Laboratory tests with Omicron have already shown that the blood serum of vaccinated people is less able to stop the virus from entering cells. However, real data is needed to confirm and substantiate these laboratory results.

When people who have been vaccinated and boosted begin to fill hospitals and die, it will be grim evidence that immunization protection has been seriously undermined. So far, the CDC says two doses of the mRNA vaccine appear to reduce the risk of serious illness with Omicron. However, officials emphasize that adding a booster shot will strengthen that protection, and they are urging vaccinated Americans to get one if they are eligible.

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2021-12-23/how-bad-is-omicron-heres-what-to-watch-for How bad is Omicron? Here’s what to watch for

Russell Falcon

USTimesPost.com is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@ustimespost.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button