Where will the Omicron variant lead to the pandemic? How dangerous is it? How effective will vaccines (and especially boosters) be to contain it? Science is busy day and night to find answers, clues and solutions to stem the overwhelming wave that is spreading in various parts of the world. Starting from South Africa, at least in the media, the discovery of its peculiarities has become a race against time. Where it will take us is not yet known, but the transmission speed shows how very soon it will be prevalent throughout Europe and, probably, also in the rest of the planet. The first news arrives on the effectiveness of vaccines: two doses struggle to protect us, but the booster seems to be able to restore the shield we need. On the danger, however, the debate is open. The Hong Kong study that has done so much in recent days seems to show a higher impact on the bronchi (where the virus replicates 70 times more than the original variants) compared to the lungs (where it seems to affect 10 times less). A detail that may have actually made the disease less aggressive.
Omicron, symptoms different from the classic “triad”
What comes from Great Britain, struggling with a monstrous increase in cases (only yesterday 90 thousand infections were touched in 24 hours), shows how the symptoms diverge from the past months, those of Alpha and Delta. Tim Spector, chief scientist of the Zoe app – who through his studies tracks Covid symptoms in the country – said that most infected people no longer suffer from the classic “triad” of persistent cough, fever and loss of smell and taste. His team has yet to collect “accurate data” on Omicron’s symptoms, but initial results suggest they are very different from Delta, presenting milder and more cold-like patterns than previous variants. «In principle – said Professor Spector – what we are seeing now is that most of the people who test positive for the molecular swab actually have cold-like symptoms and do not have the classic triad that we have used previously. In fact, a milder symptomatic condition has emerged which to many people looks like a severe cold ».
Don’t underestimate mild symptoms
A good news? To read it so certainly, but which hides a problem that could instead fuel the transmission of the virus in the population. “People can no longer wait to suffer from loss of taste and smell, or persistent cough, to take a tampon. It is essential not to underestimate symptoms such as the common cold, or a simple headache, because more than 50% of people who present themselves without the classic symptoms of Covid, still test positive “.
His team has so far only looked at about 1,000 cases of Omicron, but the new variant appears to produce a “fairly mild” disease, according to reports. Professor Spector said that ‘almost all of them got better after about five days’. However, he warned that “many of the people who are getting infections in London right now are younger and therefore not among the people most at risk of ending up in hospital.”
Data from Guateng (South Africa)
A reasonable expectation that vaccines will offer protection against serious disease, especially after the booster, is good news. The other good news is the possibility that Omicron infection will lead to a less severe disease all round. There is some evidence of this from Gauteng, the South African province where the variant is widespread. Discovery Health data suggests that adults who have contracted Omicron have a 29% lower risk of hospitalization than seen in the first wave of Covid-19 that hit the country in mid-2020. end up in intensive care is much lower than in previous waves and there are also fewer patients in ordinary wards who need supplemental oxygen. Angelique Coetzee of the South African Medical Association, who was one of the first to sound the alarm about Omicron, has consistently argued that it’s a milder variant.
Bronchi and lungs, less severe but faster
Returning to the Hong Kong study of greater virus replication in the bronchi than in the lungs, scientists are skeptical of what it might determine. This finding could somehow explain a lower incidence of serious disease as the infection in the lungs does more damage than the bronchi. But increased replication in the respiratory tract could increase transmissibility, kind of like we’ve been seeing in recent weeks. The ability to enter and reproduce in the lining of the airways could make it easier for the virus to open the door to anyone who is exposed at the time.
Although mild, more cases lead to more deaths
Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University, points out that Omicron’s success in reinfecting people can give the impression that a smaller fraction becomes seriously ill just by inflating the denominator. It could therefore seem less dangerous even if, among those who have contracted Covid for the first time, it was as dangerous as Delta. As the debate over the comparative severity of the infection continues, public health officials point out that what matters to the individual and the healthcare system are not all that well aligned. For an individual, a less lethal variant is preferable to a more lethal one, regardless of how transmissible it may be. For a healthcare system, the number of cases at any given time is a key concern, which makes transmission speed of paramount importance. There is a level beyond which the system fails to cope with the number of hospitalizations. A rapidly spreading virus can reach that level even if it produces a lower percentage of severe cases simply because the total number of cases at any given time is too high.
And in Italy? Maruotti (Lumsa): We underestimate Omicron
“There are some positive and some negative aspects of the current epidemiological situation. We have most of the infections that are asymptomatic, so the severity of the disease is lower (we see this from the ICU accesses that grow, but slightly) and hospitals can still breathe. The downside is that we are underestimating Omicron of which we know little, and the linear trend of the case curve complicates a lot and makes it difficult to say when the growth will stop. Austria performed worse than ours, chose lockdown and blocked the curve. It is clear that we have 2 difficult weeks ahead of us: probably the beginning of the year and the whole of January, as happened last year, will be the worst period ». This is the analysis for the beraking latest news Salute of Antonello Maruotti, full professor of Statistics at the Lumsa University and co-founder of the inter-academic group of statistical studies on the Covid-19 pandemic. On how to face the uphill weeks to come, Maruotti suggests «caution, in individual behaviors and in what we do in our daily lives: for example, I also wear a mask in the car when I accompany my mother. They are small things, but they can be decisive – he warns – in keeping the spread of the virus at bay ». “I was in London a few days ago and it is as if the pandemic did not exist, the only ones to have masks on the subway are the Italians – he highlights – The British have always had a different approach, but they paid a lot in induced mortality from Covid which in Italy we managed to keep under control ».
© breaking latest news