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Little still known but symptoms among vaccinated are similar to cold and flu
The new COVID-19 variant Omicron is wrecking havoc on the healthcare system as US health officials latest estimates show that the newest version of the virus accounts for 95 percent of new coronavirus infections last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted those estimates Tuesday, January 4.
Infections in Texas doubled from the previous week to 108,719, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.
The Department of State Health Services reported as of Sunday, January 2, there were 5,523 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, up nearly 64% from the previous week.
Beginning in late June, the Delta variant of the virus was the dominant strain with 99.5 percent of all coronavirus cases attributed to it as recently as the end of November. The Omicron strain was first reported to the World Health Organization on November 24, 2020 and the first US case was identified on December 1.
Although little is know about Omicron, early information indicates its symptoms, at least among those who are vaccinated, appear mild and resemble the common cold.
Prominent symptoms from Omicron include cough, fatigue or tiredness and congestion and runny nose.
A loss of taste and smell do not seem to be common with the Omicron variant.
Officials are quick to note that these symptoms are based on early reports of omicron cases, not scientific studies.
“Anecdotal reports represent just one person,” City University of New York School of Public Health Professor Dr. Bruce Y. Lee said. “We have to take them with a grain of salt.”
Additionally, these symptoms also may only reflect certain segments of the population: young and otherwise healthy, as well as those who are fully vaccinated.
“It is clear that if you’re vaccinated, particularly if you’ve had a booster, omicron tends to produce milder infections,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center said.
“What we haven’t seen yet is a substantial body of information about what omicron will do in unvaccinated people.”
Officials in Houston reported on January 3 that an unvaccinated man in 50s became the first US death attributed to the Omicron variant. He had previously been infected with COVID-19 and had become reinfected recently with the new variant.
Complicating things as Omicront spreads quickly across the country is the onset of cold and flu season and cedar pollen season in parts of South Texas.
Without the ability to self-diagnose an illness, doctors are urging people with any cold or flulike symptoms to get tested. A current shortage of at-home test kits and long lines for COVID testing due to the recent surge have also further complicated things.
According to early data, the time it takes for an infected person to develop symptoms after an exposure may be shorter for omicron than for previous variants, from a full week down to as little as three days or fewer.
Officials note that while additional research is needed, it makes sense that a highly contagious virus like the omicron variant has a shorter incubation period as it goal is to infect as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
Officials also said that it’s possible the incubation period could be shorter or longer depending on a number of variables, including age, underlying health problems and vaccination status.
The CDC says anyone exposed to someone with COVID should test no sooner than five days after their exposure, or as soon as symptoms occur. So if you find out on Tuesday that you were exposed on Sunday, without symptoms, you count five days from the day of exposure, or Sunday, which would be that Friday to take your test.
Testing too early could result in a false negative as someone could still come down with the disease between three to five days.
The CDC recommends using self-tests, with or without symptoms, vaccinated or not, by following all of the manufacturer’s instructions for performing the test, noting, however, that a positive test means you are very likely to have an infection and should isolate for five days and a negative self-test result means the test did not detect the virus, but it does not rule out infection.
Anyone who is having symptoms but tests negative with a home test may not necessarily be negative and should have a molecular test performed.
Cases of omicron are doubling about every two days. In the past week, the percentage of omicron cases in the United States rose from 13 percent to 73 percent.
Experts continue to urge people to get vaccinated and get a booster shot to reduce the risk for severe illness.
As of Tuesday, about 61 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated. Just under 30 percent had the booster shot. In Texas, that number sits just under 57 percent.