- In the United States, the Omicron variation is causing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases.
- Researchers do observe, however, that Omicron-related illnesses are typically less severe than Delta-related instances.
- One explanation, according to specialists, is that the Omicron form prefers to linger in the upper respiratory system rather than traveling to the lungs.
- The majority of persons being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 are either unvaccinated or have pre-existing illnesses such as type 2 diabetes.
The fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to cause less severe illness than previous viral generations.
The reason for this might be how the most recent type of the new coronavirus functions in the body.
According to a new study, persons in the United States who get COVID-19 for the first time from the now-dominant Omicron form are less likely to get very ill than those who get it from the Delta variation.
The study, which was overseen by scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, found that people with the Omicron variant had a 56% lower risk of hospitalization, a 66% lower risk of intensive care unit admissions, and an 84 percent lower need for mechanical ventilation than people with the Delta variant.
“There’s clearly been a decrease in the number of patients who need to be hospitalized or go to the [emergency department],” said Dr. Pamela B. Davis, a study co-author and professor of medicine at Case Western.
Davis found that the Omicron variation reduced the severity of disease across all age groups. This included unvaccinated young children as well as older, vaccinated persons who were thought to be at higher risk for more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr. Shruti K. Gohil, associate medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at the University of California Irvine, believes the less serious instances may have a simple explanation.
“The Omicron variation is seven times more effective in reproducing in the upper airways” than prior coronavirus strains, according to Gohil.
The Omicron variety, on the other hand, prefers to replicate in the upper respiratory system rather than the lungs.
“That’s what makes it so infectious but yet so mild,” Gohil explained.
The study by the numbers
Researchers examined data from almost 500,000 patients who got COVID-19 between September and December 2021, including 14,000 who were verified to have contracted the Omicron strain in late December.
According to Rong Xu, Ph.D., a researcher at Case Western, a follow-up investigation done in January, when more than 90% of new COVID-19 cases in the United States were ascribed to the Omicron variation, corroborated the results.
“In general, the Omicron form has a lower likelihood of hospitalization,” Xu told USAHealthline.
Even in persons with concomitant conditions like type 2 diabetes and organ transplants, the Omicron variant infection is “still milder than a Delta variant infection,” she says.
The findings in the United States are consistent with those of foreign researchers who have researched Omicron variant epidemics in other countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa.
What higher hospitalization numbers mean
COVID- As of Jan. 11, hospitalizations in the United States have hit an all-time high, with more than 120,000 individuals admitted.
However, Gohil believes that this is due to the large number of persons who have caught the Omicron variety.
She observed that anecdotal information acquired in inpatient care settings largely agrees with the research findings: Individuals who end up in the hospital owing to the Omicron variation are likely to be unvaccinated or have underlying health issues that are aggravated by COVID-19.
“The vast majority of critically sick patients are unvaccinated,” Gohil remarked.
She noticed that vaccinated persons with COVID-19 infections are among those hospitalized with pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.