COVID-19 in Ohio: What we know so far about the newest 'variant of concern,' called omicron

UC infectious disease expert says more data is needed

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the World Health Organization gave the name omicron to the newest identified version of COVID-19 and called it a variant of concern. There is still much to be learned about this latest variant and how potentially dangerous it is. In a story on the variant, interviewed Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UC College of Medicine. 

It’s too early to say if this variant is more worse than the more common delta variant. So far, the WHO says the variant appears to increase the risk of getting reinfected. More study is necessary to watch how the omicron variant behaves.

Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UC College of Medicine

Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UC College of Medicine/Photo/Joe Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

“We need more data,” Fichtenbaum said. “The question that people are asking about reinfection really takes time to answer. You really need three to four weeks to figure out, does this cause more reinfections? Does this cause more hospitalizations? Or is this just more transmissible or cause more than the common cold? We don’t know that yet.”

So far, there's no indication omicron results in different symptoms already seen with other iterations of the virus which include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat and nausea.

The alpha variant was prevalent in 2020. Variants named beta, gamma, lambda and mu have arisen but did not spread widely, Fichtenbaum said. The delta variant arose in early spring, spread faster than the alpha version and caused more severe illness. That variant remains the dominant strain reported. 

It’s too soon to know how effective current vaccines will be against the omicron variant. But Fichtenbaum said one factor in the variant’s impact could be the levels of vaccination. More immunizations overall provide a stronger barrier to contagion.

Across Ohio, about 62% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nationally, the rate is about 74%.

Fichtenbaum said those numbers need to increase, “otherwise we’re not going to have sufficient immunity to defend ourselves.”

Read the entire story here

Fichtenbaum was also interviewed by Fox19 on the new variant. See that coverage here. WLWT interviewed him as well on the same topic. See that coverage here

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