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Omicron: Did COVID Catch the Common Cold?

What do we know about the latest version of the coronavirus?

By:  |  January 15, 2022  |    637 Words
Blowing nose -- Pixabay

At the end of 2021, a new version of COVID appeared, and it has quickly become the most common strain of the virus around the world. Called the Omicron variant, it first appeared in southern Africa, and the first known case in the United States was reported on December 1. While Omicron is the most contagious version of the virus, the good news is that it so-far appears less deadly than earlier strains.

The reported symptoms are cold-like: body aches and pains, muscle pains, headache, tiredness, sore throat, and mild cough. Unvaccinated people report similar but slightly more intense symptoms compared to those who have taken a vaccine against COVID.

COVID Caught a Cold?

As Omicron spreads like wildfire worldwide, scientists are scrambling to study and understand the new variant. A team of researchers has found surprising evidence that may explain why Omicron is milder and spreading so fast.

Viruses often mutate, creating different “strains” or “variants.” Virologists have been surprised by the large number of mutations in Omicron. One of these mutations was shown to have DNA from a surprising source.

The researchers found a mutation “ins214EPE” that they think has been added from “HCoV-229E,” a common cold virus. In plain language, Omicron caught a cold.

The finding needs to be verified, but it gives a possible reason why the Omicron strain is so contagious and with milder symptoms. It may have been hijacked by one of the many cold viruses common around the globe.

Hospitals Under Pressure?

Omicron has quickly spread across the world and countries are reporting that hospitals are seeing a lot of patients with the virus. France’s health minister Olivier Veran commented that his nation’s hospitals are under pressure but said that Omicron patients were in a less serious condition than those with an older version of COVID, the Delta strain. Other research found that almost all hospitalized people with Omicron do not need help to breathe, and even fewer need intensive care. The evidence shows that elderly people are more at risk from the virus than younger ones.

The chief of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned:

“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as mild … Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people. In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world.”

GettyImages-1364248440 COVID testing

(Photo by Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

On the other hand, a study in South Africa found that in the first two weeks of the Omicron wave, the hospitals saw 166 COVID patients, a sharp rise from earlier. However, three-quarters of the admissions were “incidental,” meaning the patients arrived at the hospital for another reason. They were discovered to have Omicron due to a change in hospital rules that required COVID-19 testing of all patients. The study showed that most hospital cases were asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms.

The reason for the wide spread of the disease seems to be that most people have either no or mild symptoms of illness – so they may not know they even have it. As such, the actual number of infected people could be much higher than the recorded cases. This also suggests that those suffering from the Omicron variant are less likely to need hospital care than other COVID versions.

Many scientists disagree on how severe Omicron is. Some are suggesting it could be similar to the flu, while others say the situation is graver. Omicron has only been observed for about two months, so it is still too early to draw many conclusions about it.

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