Omicron variant: 8 things to watch for with this COVID-19 strain

A newer strain of COVID-19 is causing concern as cases appeared in South Africa, Belgium and other areas. The Omicron variant began making news around the end of November 2021. Now, health experts are expressing concern and closely monitoring the Omicron variant. Here's what health experts are watching closely about the Omicron variant.

1. Omicron variant transmissibility, is it highly contagious? According to the CDC, the previous Delta variant quickly surged and accounted for more than 80% of new cases in the U.S. Health experts say it's typical for a new strain of a virus to be more contagious because it often becomes much more efficient and easily transmitted. There are concerns the Omicron variant may be as or more contagious than previous strains.

2. Omicron variant symptoms may be the same Early indications are the symptoms of the Omicron variant appear to be the same as the Delta variant as well as the original version of COVID-19. However, physicians are watching people closely to determine whether they're getting sicker quicker, and looking for impact on various age groups. Moreover, previous research indicated the Delta variant grew faster and to higher levels in the respiratory tract. The growth of the Omicron variant and thus Omicron variant symptoms is being watched closely by health experts. Typically, vaccinated people who contracted the Delta variant were either asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms. Their symptoms are more like those of a common cold, such as cough, fever or headache, with the addition of significant loss of smell. For vaccinated people Omicron variant symptoms such as an Omicron fever, cough, headache or loss of smell and taste may be the same, but it is not yet confirmed.

3. Omicron variant may affect unvaccinated people more Most patients hospitalized people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. Nationally, the percentage of unvaccinated patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are is high. Vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection and are effective in fighting against the Delta variant. Health experts are hopeful the Omicron variant will also respond to current vaccines and are conducting testing. Across the U.S., data shows that areas with lower vaccination rates tend to have higher COVID-19 infection rates. Health experts reiterate that COVID-19 vaccines work to prevent severe disease and fatalities.

4. Omicron breakthrough cases for vaccinated people is unclear, but possible Currently when a vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19, many have no symptoms or mild symptoms. It rarely results in hospitalization or death. As of late November 2021, Omicron symptoms currently are described as similar to other variants. That would mean an Omicron fever, cough, or headache, with the addition of significant loss of smell would be a common Omicron symptom. No vaccine is 100% effective. With the COVID-19 vaccines averaging about 90% efficacy, health experts expect about 10% of those vaccinated could be infected. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 0.005% of the vaccinated population has reported breakthrough cases of COVID-19.

5. Omicron variant could be especially hard on some communities In low vaccination rate communities, for example some rural areas in the U.S. with limited access to care, the Omicron variant could be damaging. This would be similar to poorer countries where the COVID-19 vaccines are not as accessible. If the Omicron variant proves hard on areas with low vaccination rates, health experts indicate rural areas could experience long-lasting impacts. 6. Unvaccinated patients who get the Omicron variant infection may wish they had gotten the vaccine According to news reports, many patients infected by the Delta variant have told their physicians they wished they'd received vaccines. Similarly, the fates of unvaccinated who acquire the Omicron variant may well wish they had received the vaccine.

7. Experts are recommending vaccinated wear masks Health experts in the U.S. and elsewhere are wearing masks again even if they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Omicron variant may prompt additional support for mask wearing. Moreover, as the Omicron variant situation evolves public health and government leaders may again advise vaccinated people to avoid crowds, mask up, and establish Omicron fever screening, and hand washing protocols where the vaccination status of people is unknown. 8. Omicron variant and more COVID-19 variants are likely to come The Omicron variant is the strain wit the most interest as of late November 2021. Earlier in the year, the Delta variant became the most prominent strain of COVID-19. The Lambda variant out of South America was also a variant of concern at one time. Whether the Omicron variant takes a trajectory similar to the Delta variant is unknown at this time. In any case, according to health experts, vaccines are the best step towards a return to normal. As long as a significant portion of people are unvaccinated against new strains like the Delta and Omicron variants additional strains of the Corona virus will emerge and disrupt life.

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