What to know about the COVID-19 omicron variant: Symptoms, cases, where it’s been found

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Editor’s Note: The video above is from a press conference on omicron by Ohio’s top doctor.

(WJW) – In just over a week since the COVID-19 omicron variant was identified, there has been fresh concern about how people will be impacted.

Is it more contagious and where has it been found?

We’re answering what is known about the variant and what is still left unanswered.

Omicron emerges

According to the World Health Organization, the first COVID-19 sample with the omicron variant was taken on Nov. 9 in South Africa.

However, it wasn’t identified until Nov. 24, when the South African government reported it to WHO.

WHO designated the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 variant, now known as omicron, as a variant of concern 2 days later.

Although it was first identified in South Africa, the origin is unclear.

Why it’s different

Viruses are always changing, which can cause a new variant of a virus to form.

A variant usually doesn’t affect how the virus works.

Omicron has been labeled a variant of concern because it has several mutations that WHO says may impact how easily it spreads, how it affects your health, and how effective current vaccines might be against it.

According to WHO the variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection.

It is not clear whether omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants.

However, since first identified, the variant is now the dominant variant in South Africa and has been found around the world.

Where are the cases?

In the U.S., cases have been found in New York, California, Minnesota, Colorado and Hawaii.

While some of those people had traveled, others had not, indicating that there is already community spread of the virus.

Some of the people who had the variant had been vaccinated, others were not and had previously had COVID-19.

No cases have been identified in Ohio as of Dec. 3, 2021.

Omicron has also been identified in about 3 dozen countries.

Is it more contagious?

Right now, researchers don’t know whether omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants.

Epidemiologic studies are underway to determine if that’s the reason it has spread so quickly.

Is it more severe?

It isn’t known yet if omicron causes more severe infections.

While many areas are seeing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, it is not clear if that is because of omicron.

The initial infections were reported among college students, which is an age group that tends to see less severe symptoms of coronavirus.

WHO believes understanding the severity of the variant will take several weeks.

Reinfection

According to WHO, preliminary data suggests omicron causes an increased risk of reinfection, meaning people who previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily.

Vaccine effectiveness

Of those who have been infected with the omicron variant, some have been vaccinated and others have previously had COVID-19.

None of those infected with omicron have died at this time.

Symptoms

The symptoms are similar to other variants of COVID-19.

Symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

Here’s what to look for, according to the CDC:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Prevention

Just like other variants, health leaders say people should get vaccines and booster shots.

They’re encouraging people to socially distance themselves, wear masks, keep hands clean, and have fresh air and ventilation when possible.

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