The dizzying speed of omicron’s spread has left Americans questioning much of what they know about Covid-19, especially on the cusp of holiday travel.
“This is hitting us at a very inopportune time,” said Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and vaccinologist at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist in North Carolina.
Though much remains unknown about omicron, experts are beginning to understand more about the variant and how it affects people who are vaccinated, unvaccinated or who have had a previous Covid infection. For example, people who are exposed to omicron appear to get sick faster and may have symptoms that are different than those of other variants.
What are the symptoms of omicron?
Early evidence suggests that for most people, at least for those who are up to date on their Covid vaccines, omicron appears to result in mild illness that can resemble the common cold, another form of the coronavirus. Poehling, who is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which helps guide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decisions on vaccines, said there appear to be prominent symptoms from omicron:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Congestion and runny nose
Unlike in previous variants, the loss of taste and smell seems to be uncommon, she said.
But Poehling and other experts say those symptoms are based on early reports of omicron cases, not scientific studies.
“Anecdotal reports represent just one person,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York School of Public Health. “We have to take them with a grain of salt.”
What’s more, they may only reflect certain segments of the population: young and otherwise healthy, as well as those who are fully vaccinated.
“It is clear that if you’re vaccinated, particularly if you’ve had a booster, omicron tends to produce milder infections,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
“What we haven’t seen yet is a substantial body of information about what omicron will do in unvaccinated people,” he added.
Indeed, at least one person who was not vaccinated is reported to have died of omicron. Officials in Houston announced Monday that the unvaccinated man in his 50s succumbed to the virus.
There is also emerging evidence that omicron tends not to burrow deep into the lungs as much as previous variants. A study, which was posted online by the University of Hong Kong and not yet peer-reviewed, found that while omicron is less severe in the lungs, it can replicate faster higher up in the respiratory tract.
In this way, omicron may act more like bronchitis than pneumonia, said Dr. Hugh Cassiere, director of critical care services for Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at the North Shore University Hospital, on Long Island, New York.
“Usually patients with acute bronchitis tend not to be short of breath. They tend to cough and produce sputum,” he said. “Patients with pneumonia tend to be short of breath and feel more fatigued than bronchitis in general.”
Still, it’s virtually…