OMICRON: A pandemic within a pandemic. All we know about omicron.

What is the Omicron variant?

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been called a variant of concern by WHO based on the evidence that it has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves. There is still substantial uncertainty regarding Omicron and a lot of research is underway to evaluate its transmissibility, severity, and reinfection risk.

How did the Omicron variant develop?

When a virus is circulating widely and causing numerous infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more opportunities it has to change.

New variants like Omicron are a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. It is therefore essential that people get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing, and keeping indoor areas well ventilated.

It is also crucial that vaccines and other public health measures are accessible everywhere. Vaccine inequity leaves lower-income countries at the mercy of COVID-19. Well-supplied countries must urgently deliver the doses they promised.

Is the Omicron variant more severe than other COVID-19 variants?

Early findings suggest that Omicron might be less severe than the Delta variant, but more data is needed, and WHO warns that it should not be dismissed as “mild”. Studies are ongoing and this information will be updated as it becomes available.

It is important to remember that all variants of COVID-19 can cause severe disease or death, including the Delta variant that is still dominant worldwide, which is why preventing the spread of the virus and reducing your risk of exposure to the virus is so important.

Is the Omicron variant more contagious?

Omicron is spreading more quickly than other variants. Based on the information available, WHO believes it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where there is COVID-19 transmission in the community.

However, being vaccinated and taking precautions such as avoiding crowded spaces, keeping your distance from others, and wearing a mask is critical in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we know these actions have been effective against other variants.

What are some common Omicron symptoms?

So far, most Omicron symptoms are said to coincide with a common cold or flu, which is making it difficult to tell whether what one has is COVID-19 or a regular cold. A sore or scratchy throat is a symptom that came to the forefront since the beginning of the emergence of the Omicron variant. It could be associated with pain and irritation in the throat.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Omicron variant?

Researchers are looking into any potential impact the Omicron variant has on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Information is still limited, but there may be a small reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe illness and death and a decline in preventing mild disease and infection. However, WHO reports that so far it looks like the currently available vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease and death.

It is also important to be vaccinated to protect against the other widely circulating variants, such as the Delta one. When it’s your turn, make sure to get vaccinated. If your vaccination involves two doses, it’s important to receive both to have maximum protection.

Is a prior COVID-19 infection effective against the Omicron variant?

WHO reports that early evidence suggests that previous infection could offer less protection against Omicron in comparison to other variants of concern, such as Delta. Information is still limited though and we will share updates as it becomes available.

You should get vaccinated even if you’ve previously had COVID-19. While people who recover from COVID-19 may develop some natural immunity to the virus, we do not yet know how long it lasts or how well you are protected. Vaccines offer more reliable protection.

Do current COVID-19 tests detect the Omicron variant?

The widely used PCR and antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests continue to detect infection of COVID-19, including Omicron.

Are children more likely to contract the Omicron variant?

Research is ongoing into Omicron’s transmissibility and we will update as more information becomes available. However, people who are mixing socially and those who are unvaccinated are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

How can I protect myself and my family against the Omicron variant?

The most important thing you can do is reduce your risk of exposure to the virus. To protect yourself and your loved ones, make sure to:

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Make sure that your hands are clean when you put on and remove your mask.

  • Keep a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others.

  • Avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces.

  • Open windows to improve ventilation indoors.

  • Wash your hands regularly.

  • When it’s your turn, get vaccinated. WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

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