A variant of concern, as what the World Health Organization (WHO) tagged it, the Omicron variant has shown several mutations from its behavioral changes. As such, it’s spreading noticeably faster in a community transmission situation doubled within the duration of 2-3 days. It is now known that the more it widely spreads, the more it mutates.
The first confirmed infection was on November 9, 2021, the Omicron variant originated from South Africa. It was then reported officially to WHO in November 24, 2021. Little did we know, the variant was silently circulating in countries of United Kingdom to Australia even before its discovery and disseminated health reports to alarm the mass.
Genomic sequencing was conducted in facilities such as the University of California, San Francisco for the first case in the United States. The sequence was then confirmed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
An early method to detect the significant variant is to use Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). Our advancements let us now use the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test with S Gene Target Failure (SGTF) to easily detect Omicron. In doing so, people can be tested with enhanced readiness and efficiency in Omicron variant detection.
Symptoms of the Omicron variant
The infectious variant shares the common symptoms from its predecessor variants. On the contrary, Omicron is known to have milder symptoms even for vaccinated and boosted individuals. Even so, the slightest show of any sign can be eventually deadly.
- dry cough
- sore throat
- frequent sneezing
- congestion and runny nose
In most cases, fatigues and muscle aches are also seen in Omicron-diagnosed individuals. These symptoms may seem superficial but it’s best to be tested than neglect it since the variant makes it look that way. On the other hand, loss of taste and smell doesn’t seem to be the key symptom for Omicron.
Severity of the contagious variant
The Omicron variant manifests milder viral signs and has a lower severity compared to the Delta variant. However, due to the variant’s faster transmissibility, it doubles the amount of infected to a significant degree. Its transmission power alone is five times faster than the Delta variant.
Being over-cautious now is the perfect time to be. There’s little clarity yet whether it will cause more severe diseases or not. Even so, an increase in the hospitalization rate is enough reason to not turn a blind eye and do all measures to prevent contracting the virus.
Effectivity of monoclonal antibodies against the Omicron variant
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the body’s immune system to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses, like SARS-CoV-2. Although our bodies naturally make antibodies to fight infection, our bodies will not blueprint antibodies to recognize a new virus if we haven’t received the vaccine or had a previous infection of the virus — COVID-19, in this case. With monoclonal antibody therapy, it’s designed to prevent hospitalizations and reduce viral loads and symptom severity.
To this time, Pfizer’s Paxlovid is the first leading prescription oral antiviral treatment of COVID-19. Although not a substitute for the vaccines, the pill has been hailed as a potential “game-changer” in the treatment of COVID-19 for its 5-day oral treatment regimen with morning and evening doses. By almost 90 percent, Paxlovid reduces hospitalization and death for non-hospitalized, high-risk adults with COVID-19.
Other monoclonal antibody therapies have surfaced alongside the pill, some have shown to be less effective against the Omicron variant. As luck would have it, one that is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has proved its efficacy is GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Sotrovimab. Its monoclonal antibody “retains in vitro activity against the full known omicron spike protein.” This has established the fact that Sotrovimab could fight against all tested variants of COVID-19.
Importance of Existing vaccines
Booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines aren’t just preventing infections with the highly contagious Omicron variant — they’re holding up the hospitalization rate to a minimum as well. The extra doses are 90 percent effective against the variant. New data from CDC reveal that the vaccines were more protective against the Delta variant than against Omicron. As lab studies found, extra doses eliminate the probability of being hospitalized with the dominant Delta variant and lessen the chance of being infected by the new Omicron variant altogether.
Completing the first two doses and getting booster shots are still, nonetheless, effective in neutralizing the virus’s capability to replicate itself in a body. With so little data, the Omicron variant has given us a full glimpse that this pandemic is far from over. Getting up-to-date vaccines may be a shot in the dark for the coming months or years but it’s far better than battling this predominantly infectious variant without an armor.
Hospitals managing the new surge of cases
With the overwhelming new surge of cases, a number of hospitals are not in crisis-mode as vaccinated individuals now usually stay for a night and go home the next. As an example, Vermont hospitals in the United States recently showed the majority of the patients hospitalized, even greater than 75 percent, are unvaccinated. 85 percent of the unvaccinated are placed in the ICU. Those that are vaccinated or boosted and admitted commonly have extensive underlying medical conditions, this makes it already risky to begin with for them.
Facing healthcare staff shortages
Despite the relatively low hospitalization rate, the contagious variant is exacting a toll on the hospital staff. Exhausted and burnt out, the healthcare workers are at a limit at the macro level. This has been a forthcoming situation even before Omicron was discovered, and the new surge is just realizing the ominous fact into life.
Hiring qualified personnel has become increasingly more difficult for hospitals. As a counter-response, CDC recently adjusted its policies for healthcare workers, recommending the staff who were exposed with no symptoms to return to work however the situation calls it necessary. With the 10 days of isolation the CDC had previously proposed, it is now shortened to 7 days if the staff test negative and are asymptomatic.
Cancelling elective surgeries
Throughout most parts of the United States, Philadelphia and California for example, hospitals are halting “elective” surgeries which entail organ transplants, brain surgeries, and kidney stone removal, among other procedures. Accompanied with the healthcare staff shortages, hospitals needed to allocate the use of their medical equipment and facilities smart and fast with the new surge. This comes as a harsh and unwanted compromise to make more room in providing care for the chronically ill from the coronavirus.
Although an elective surgery means it’s not an emergency, scheduling one surgery and waiting can be a life or death situation. Postponing elective surgeries is voluntary for hospitals, fortunately. Hospital executives are heedfully weighing out which surgeries can be either carried out or delayed. A heart surgery deems the circumstance necessary for an instant action compared to a knee replacement.
Protecting yourself against Omicron
With the Delta variant being the real threat now, the Omicron variant can only be scarier since we know so little of it. An uncertain threat that comes into play should make us extra cautious. Without a doubt, we should always guard ourselves against COVID-19 in general, be it any other variant.
Gearing up for the new player
Completing the first two vaccines and getting up-to-date boosters are level one priority. Masks to take note of for its effectivity are the three-layer surgical mask, KN95, or N95 respirator. Masking up and avoiding crowded places is essential. Getting yourself scanned through antigen tests and self-test kits will help you determine if the infection is caused by the Omicron variant. Practicing health safety protocols religiously even post-vaccinated is crucial in drawing the line between prevention and treatment — while helping hospitals manage and wade through the new surge with ease.
If you need online and virtual consultations regarding your covid-like symptoms today, you can reach out to me for a telehealth consultation regarding your health if you have more questions.