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A new study says the Omicron variant could infect some 140 million Americans by March, but the majority of people who contract the variant might be asymptomatic.
“We are expecting an enormous surge in infections … so, an enormous spread of Omicron,” said Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, according to USA Today.
“Total infections in the U.S. we forecast are going from about 40 percent of the U.S. having been infected so far, to having in the next two to three months, 60 percent of the U.S. getting infected with Omicron,” he said.
But the researchers at the institute said that while the variant appears to be more contagious than the Delta variant, it does not appear to be as strong. They predict Omicron will lead to fewer deaths and hospitalizations. “Omicron’s hospitalization rate is about 90 to 96 percent lower than Delta, which rampaged through much of the US in August,” the Daily Mail reported on Thursday.
What’s more, up to 90% of those who contract the variant will never know they have Omicron, said the Mail.
“The majority will show no symptoms and have fewer hospitalizations and deaths compared to previous surges as Omicron is believed to be milder,” the U.K. paper reported.
The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is milder than the Delta variant, according to a report from the British government, which will release the early data in the coming days.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which operates much like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that those who contract Omicron are less likely to become severely ill compared to people who get the Delta variant, according to the data, reports Politico.
“More people are likely to have a mild illness with less serious symptoms — probably in part due to Britain’s large number of vaccinated and previously infected people, and possibly because Omicron may be intrinsically milder,” Politico reported. “Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has previously cautioned against too much optimism based on the initial optimistic signs from South Africa in the past few weeks. However, the UKHSA’s view after studying cases in Britain is that Omicron is indeed usually less severe than Delta.”
But the report included one caveat. “The less good news is that while Omicron seems milder overall, the UKHSA has found it is not necessarily mild enough to avoid large numbers of hospitalizations. The experts have found evidence that for those who do become severely ill, there is still a high chance of hospitalization and death.”
“The UKHSA has also confirmed that transmissibility of Omicron is very high, meaning that even though it is milder, infections could rocket to the point large numbers still end up in hospital — essentially negating the reduction in severity. NHS staff shortages due to widespread infections also have to be taken into account. Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that there was still ‘uncertainty’ on exactly how severe Omicron is, and how this impacts the hospitalization rate,” said the report.
Another UK study of early data about the Omicron variant has found that the most common symptoms are akin to the common cold.
The ZOE COVID Symptoms Study, which has been tracking symptoms reported by participants using a smartphone app, reported that the top five symptoms for Omicron are runny nose, headache, fatigue (mild or severe), sneezing, and sore throat. The data were collected between December 3 and 10 in London.
The new strain differs from previous strains, which often brought high fevers, a heavy cough, and the loss of smell. “Hopefully people now recognize the cold-like symptoms which appear to be the predominant feature of Omicron. These are the changes that will slow the spread of the virus,” lead scientist Tim Spector on the study said in a news release on Thursday.