Omicron variant appears to be mild, but what does ‘mild’ mean?

Just like previous variants, ‘Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people’, the head of WHO warned recently

Omicron wave

The more infectious Omicron COVID-19 variant appears to produce less severe disease than the Delta strain, but it should not be categorised as “mild”, according to several health experts.

Just like previous variants, “Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people”, the head of the World Health Organization warned recently.

“In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick that it is overwhelming health systems around the world,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom said on Thursday.

Dr Shira Doron, an epidemiologist and infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told a US news network that those with minor illness due to coronavirus can feel quite “uncomfortable” and may develop the dreaded “long COVID” – when symptoms persist for months and damage the vital organs.

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“When we or when the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the NIH [National Institutes of Health] says ‘mild’, we really mean it didn’t make you sick enough to go to the hospital,” Dr Doron told CNN. “But when you get a flu-like illness that puts you in bed, that’s not mild to you.”

Also read: India reports 1.41 lakh new COVID-19 cases; Omicron tally up to 3,071

Dr Doron said the term “mild” may need to be redefined, as calling the disease “mild” may lull people into not taking COVID-19 seriously.

Dr William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the channel that those with minor symptoms should not ignore them and should get tested for COVID. “So they know to watch for worsening symptoms that need medical care. A test will also tell them if they need to isolate themselves so they don’t spread the coronavirus to others,” he told the channel.

He added that people should not skip vaccines or boosters just because Omicron causes less severe illness as compared to the strains that came before. 

The unvaccinated who contract an Omicron infection can still end up in ICU and “never get back their lives”, Dr Claudia Hoyen of UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland said recently.

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