There has been some good news with Omicron, as there have been several studies showing that this new variant is less likely to cause severe infection than the Delta. On the flip side, Omicron is WAY more contagious.
By far, the most contagious COVID variant has already become the dominant strain in America, making up 95% of cases.
A study from Hong Kong found that Omicron replicates 70 times faster in human airways, but lung infection was less severe.
Although Omicron may not cause as severe an infection, it does cause more infections. So will that translate into more hospitalizations? Most likely, depending on how well the virus is controlled.
Recently, the CDC: updated its guidelines for the Covid isolation period, shortening it from 10 days to five days if you’re not having symptoms. This is because the likelihood of asymptomatic people transmitting the virus on days 6-10 after infection is much lower.
Covid hospitalizations reached a record high of more than 142,000 about a year ago, then went over 100,000 again back in September. It dipped to 45,000 in November but has gone up steadily since then. Last Monday, it was 71,000 hospitalizations.
At the same time, you have fewer available health care workers to take care of these patients. 1) because they are catching COVID as well. 2) more and more are quitting because they are simply burnt out. So you have more ER visits and hospitalizations, with worsening staffing shortages, not a good combination.
Also, there is a concern that when it comes to toddlers, omicron infection might resemble croup, as more of upper airway disease, or possibly resemble RSV infection where it causes bronchiolitis, meaning inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. This might explain why we are seeing more hospitalizations in young children.
Now to some good news, in a new study, it looks like infection with Omicron helps people fend off future omicron and delta infections. And if that is the case, and because Omicron is the most dominant strain, there is real potential that the pandemic could soon start to fade away. This is based on a recent, yet to be published, yet-to-be peer-reviewed study that was done in South Africa.
At the Africa Health Research Institute, researchers took blood samples from 13 people who were infected with Omicron, all of them having symptoms. The researchers then took the antibodies from those blood samples, put them in a test tube, and mixed them with different covid variants, including Delta and Omicron. This is called a neutralization test. 7 of the 13 people were previously vaccinated, while 6 were not. The researchers then repeated this process 2 weeks after their initial infection.
The results showed something expected and something not expected. What was expected was the antibody response to Omicron. The antibodies neutralized Omicron in the test tube 14-fold at the 2-week mark. What was unexpected is that the participants developed some enhanced immunity against the Delta variant, with Delta neutralization increasing over 4-fold.
The researchers also showed that those who were previously vaccinated could mount a better neutralizing response against Delta, while the response in unvaccinated participants was more variable. Was this a perfect study? No. far from it.
Three main issues. 1) only 13 people, so super small study here. 2) I don’t know who did or did not have a previous infection. 3) this study strictly looks at antibody neutralization, which only tells part of the story regarding the body’s immune defense.
It is very possible that the Omicron infections simply amplified the existing immunity in the volunteers in the study, provided either by vaccinations or previous infections. If that’s the case, then it remains to be seen what will happen to unvaccinated people who get infected with COVID for the first time with Omicron.
But if further experiments confirm the findings in this study, that could mean that this pandemic will fade away. In the short term, especially in January and February, Omicron will put a huge strain on economies and health care systems. But in the long term, Omicron Dominated world might significantly lower the number of hospitalizations and deaths, especially as Delta is pushed out.
Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine
Contact and Social Media Links: https://doctormikehansen.com/contact/