I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Omicron
As the U.S. reaches a bleak new milestone of over 900,000 deaths from COVID, Omicron continues to spread across the country infecting millions. With the surge still raging on in many areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just issued new guidelines for immunocompromised people. The CDC now recommends that. "People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive a booster dose at least 3 months after the last (third) dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine," instead of five months after the third dose as previously recommended. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, MD, Director of Global Health and Emergency Department Physician at Staten Island University Hospital who explained what the signs of Omicron are and other important information to know about the virus. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Signs You Have Omicron
Dr. Cioe-Peña says, "It is important to note that Omicron has the same signs and symptoms as COVID-19. Pretty much, flu-like symptoms which can be sore throat, runny nose, fever, chills, muscle aches, and loss of taste or smell. Loss of taste or smell is considered pathognomonic, which you are almost certain to have if you have a cold. You don't need to have it to be diagnosed with Omicron or COVID but it is definitely strongly suggestive. Some early reports show that your first symptom for omicron is a runny nose, and that runny nose is more common with omicron than it is with other variants. But really anything that acts like an upper respiratory infection is fair game for being considered COVID. If you develop any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, you should consider COVID as one of the diagnoses you may have."
Why Omicron is so Contagious
Dr. Cioe-Peña explains, "In terms of why omicron is so contagious, it has to do with the mutations in the spike protein which is the protein the virus uses to enter the human cell. It is kind of like the key that fits into the lock on the human cell. It is designed to be very efficient, it actually mirrors some of the common cold mutations, so another coronavirus that causes the common cold has some shared mutation with omicron, which is thought to make it a little less severe, make it dodge some immunity—especially un-boosted vaccine induced immunity and natural immunity as well as make it very contagious."
Treatment for Omicron
According to Dr. Cioe-Peña, the best treatment is to get vaccinated and boosted. "The data that just came out of the CDC shows that virtually no people who were vaccinated and boosted developed severe COVID. Your risk is extremely low, about 40 times lower than an unvaccinated person, and about eight times lower than a vaccinated person who isn't boosted. Very good and strong suggestive data that the best treatment is prevention. There are also oral antivirals that you can take and monoclonal antibody treatment. There is currently one monoclonal antibody treatment that is working against omicron. Both of those treatments are in limited supply and really only for people with multiple risk factors or unvaccinated with one risk factor."
When to Seek Medical Treatment
"If you are not sure you have COVID, you should seek medical attention to get a COVID test and be diagnosed," Dr. Cioe-Peña, states. "That's important for contact tracing, and notifying anyone vulnerable or unvaccinated around you. In terms of seeking medical attention like going to the hospital, anyone who develops chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty walking because they are too short of breath, noting if their fingers or lips turn blue, any severe symptoms would prompt a visit to your doctor or the emergency department. If you are visiting your doctor, you should call ahead and let them know you are coming in with COVID like symptoms, they may actually tell you to go directly to an urgent care or emergency department."
You Can Get Omicron More Than Once
Dr. Cioe-Peña says, "It is more likely than any other previous variant. The one thing is if you are vaccinated and boosted it is very unlikely you'll get it again, but if you are unvaccinated and relying on natural immunity it is very likely you can probably get it every 90 days for the rest of your life. If you are vaccinated and un-boosted, you're probably more likely to get it at least once and then we'll see. We really don't know; we are only in our first 90 days since the peak happened so we aren't sure what is going to happen there. The best prevention and the take home message, get vaccinated and get boosted, and this will become a nothingburger."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.