Since its discovery in South Africa last month, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has rapidly gained ground across the globe, demonstrating unprecedented transmission rates. Researchers are scrambling to establish just how grave a threat it poses to current immune defences, but evidence to date remains largely anecdotal. Of the data available, reports of severe illness with Omicron describe shortness of breath for a duration of 13 days. Experts are noting, however, that breathlessness may be more common among the unvaccinated.
Much of the efforts to characterise the new variant have revolved around distinguishing it from previous variants.
Preliminary data shows that some symptoms may differ, but experts are still working to determine whether these changes hold great significance.
South Africa’s health insurer last week suggested that a scratchy and sore throat, along with nasal congestion, a dry cough and muscle pain in the lower back were all prevalent complaints with Omicron.
Separate reports suggest earlier warning signs may include a headache, muscle pain, fatigue, sneezing and night sweats.
READ MORE: What’s happened to AstraZeneca? Why Oxford vaccine has disappeared
In rarer instances, it has also been suggested that shortness of breath may occur among the unvaccinated.
Breathlessness that lasts up to 13 days has been attributed to more severe cases of infection with the variant, reports The Independent.
This finding is important in light of recent reports released by Imperial College earlier this week, stating the variant may elicit reactions as severe as those seen with the Delta variant, contradicting widespread reports that the virus elicits “mild” reactions.
The Institution wrote: “The study offers no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, judged by either the proportion of people testing positive who report symptoms, or by the proportion of cases seeking hospital care after infection.”
According to Dr Clark -Cutaia, symptoms differ mainly depending on whether individuals have been vaccinated against the virus or not.
Having spoken to patients in Pennsylvania about their symptoms, Dr Clark-Cutaia explained unvaccinated people experienced shortness of breath, cough and other flu-like symptoms similar to those seen among unvaccinated people with Delta.
Dr Hugh Cassiere, director of critical care services for Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital, New York contradicted these claims, suggesting the variant may act more like bronchitis than pneumonia.
He said: “Usually, patients with acute bronchitis tend not to be short of breath.
One of the other main characteristics of the novel strain is a markedly shorter incubation period, which makes it harder to control.
It was recently established that it takes as little as three days for people to develop symptoms after contracting the virus.
This means people can test positive and are more contagious earlier on than they would have been with the Delta variant, which has an incubation period of four to six days.
Researchers believe one reason for this could be the variant’s mutations which may allow it to attach to and enter cells.