If you get COVID-19 in the United States correct now, chances are high that it ’ s the Omicron variant, which now accounts for around 95 percentage of the state ’ sulfur reported cases. With dozens of mutations, Omicron is unlike from the previously dominant allele Delta variant in significant ways, which means that, after two years of getting a treat on how to manage hazard, you might need to shift at least some of your behaviors. Among the changes, Omicron is more ancestral and better at evading existing antibodies. “ To me, the biggest lurch, the most lurid thing, is how fabulously infectious this thing is. I have never seen anything so infectious in my liveliness, ” says Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. At the same time, Omicron causes different symptoms and seems to lead to less severe disease. hush, different strains of SARS-CoV-2 share authoritative similarities, and much of the basic populace health advice—get vaccinated, wear a mask—remains the same. here ’ s what the latest research says about staying dependable in the age of Omicron .

Is Omicron really causing less severe disease than Delta?

multiple lines of evidence from assorted parts of the world suggest that the Omicron random variable causes a less dangerous form of COVID-19. In South Africa, where Omicron was first detected in November 2021, a private health insurance administrator reported in mid-december that adults with Omicron were 29 percentage less probable to be hospitalized, compared with adults septic respective months early. In the U.K., the rate of hospital entrance fee among people who went to the emergency room with Omicron was a third of what it was for Delta, according to a summary of research from the U.K. Health Security Agency released on December 31, 2021.

As of early January, U.S. adults with Omicron were less than half as likely to visit the emergency room, be hospitalized, or be put on a breathing device, according to preliminary work by researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Their sketch, which has not so far been peer-reviewed, examines data for more than 14,000 patients and accounts for their inoculation condition and any preexistent conditions. A shift in symptom reflects those trends, del Rio says. In the hospital, patients are showing up less much with pneumonia-like symptoms and hyperactive immune systems, as seen in previous waves. rather, they ’ re more often presenting with congestion and spotty throats. “ In Omicron, the symptoms are more like a oral sex cold, ” he says .

Does severity differ based on age or preexisting conditions?

Omicron appears to be less dangerous than Delta in all historic period groups, even in adults older than 65 and in children besides young to be vaccinated, according to the Case Western sketch. still, as with other health issues, senesce remains a factor, del Rio says. “ For any disease, if you ‘re older, you ‘re going to do a draw worse, ” he says. People with underlie conditions or compromised immune systems besides remain more vulnerable, as perform people who are unvaccinated. Although current vaccines are less effective at preventing symptoms from Omicron than from Delta, the U.K. report found that people who were amply boosted were up to 88 percentage less likely to be hospitalized with Omicron compared with unvaccinated people. Hospitals around the nation report that unvaccinated patients make up the majority of people now in intensive care units. Regardless of age or health condition, people infected with Omicron can feel awful tied if they don ’ t have to go to the hospital, and the version continues to hospitalize and kill many people, emphasized Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, in a virtual press conference final week .

Why is Omicron dangerous if it’s less severe than Delta?

Omicron is between two and four times more contagious than Delta, according to a danish sketch that has not however been peer reviewed. It ’ second besides good at evading the antibodies triggered by vaccines, which is why it ’ sulfur causing more breakthrough infections. As a result, more people are getting ill and showing up at hospitals, where more staff are calling in pale, del Rio says. Omicron has 36 mutations within its spike protein, which is the contribution essential for anchoring the virus on homo cells and infecting them. Though none are peer reviewed, at least half a twelve studies using small animal models—such as mouse and hamsters—and testing ground cell cultures have started to reveal how those mutations alter the direction that Omicron enters cells and replicates, says John Moore, a vaccine research worker and virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. Unlike previous variants, Omicron appears unable to infect lung cells as efficiently, which in call on makes it less damaging and the symptoms less austere. viral loads are importantly lower in the lungs of Omicron-infected rodents in some studies. But in the upper respiratory nerve pathway, which includes the nose and sinuses, Omicron seems to replicate more than a hundred times faster than Delta. That desegregate of changes—the preference for the upper air lane, better immune invasion, and high transmissibility—reflects how evolution pushes the virus to ensure its own future by replicating and spreading even when that does not make individuals brainsick. “ It kind of does n’t matter to the virus, once it ‘s replicated, whether that person lives or dies ampere long as it can get to the future host, ” Moore says. “ It ’ s all about genome reproduction. ”

What do these changes mean for at-home testing?

All strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect cells in the mouth, and Omicron may be peculiarly abundant there compared with other variants, early testify suggests. In one study that has not yet been peer reviewed, researchers in South Africa tested 382 people who were not vomit enough to be hospitalized but hush had COVID-19 symptoms. They found that in those with Delta, nose swabs were more accurate, but for Omicron, saliva tests worked best. other studies besides suggest that rapid antigen tests that rely on nasal swabs might be particularly decelerate to identify infections with Omicron. In one study posted final workweek that has not however been peer reviewed, researchers looked at samples from 30 people who tested positive for COVID-19 around the United States during outbreaks in early December. For most cases of Omicron, PCR tests showed positive days before a rapid test did. Those results echo what people have been reporting on social media, says sketch coauthor Anne Wyllie, a medical microbiologist at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. Given the growing testify for Omicron ’ s prevalence in sprinkle, social media has been full of DIYers and researchers advocating that people swab their throats with at-home examination kits. Wyllie has even tried it herself using the dab from a rapid screen. The resultant role was veto, but she felt more confident that it was a true veto than if she ’ five hundred only swabbed her scent. “ It ‘s not what ‘s been authorized by the FDA, and it ‘s a very slippery subject to speak out on because of that, ” she says. That ’ mho why many other experts are hesitant to recommend the off-label practice. While throat swab might finally become separate of the testing equation, rapid tests were designed for noses, not throats, says Jill Weatherhead, an infectious disease adept at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “ At this point, the recommendation would be to continue to do the test as they ‘ve been designed to be done until far test has been shown that it ‘s effective, ” Weatherhead says .

Does double masking help protect against Omicron?

The Centers for Disease C ontrol and prevention does not presently recommend duplicate dissemble or the use of specific masks. But other countries, including Austria, France, and Germany, have upgraded their guidelines to recommend medical-grade varieties, such as surgical masks or N95s. And some U.S. experts have spoken out in favor of higher timbre masks. One study found that, if fitted correctly, N95s block an average of 90 percentage of exhale particles, while surgical masks blocked 74 percentage. That can make a hearty dispute in community spread. In Bangladesh, an interposition boosted the share of people wearing surgical masks in some villages from 13 percentage to 42 percentage. Researchers then found an 11 percentage drop in COVID-19 symptoms, with bigger gains in older groups. attest on fabric masks is desegregate, but wearing a fabric disguise over a surgical mask can block more than 85 percentage of cough particles, according to some research. Experts recommend choosing your mask based on the site you ’ re in. In social situations, Moore wears a fabric masquerade decorated with the logo of his favored soccer team, Liverpool. When walking around at work or in stores, he wears a compact fabric masquerade that he finds comfortable. Del Rio says he wears an N95 whenever he ’ s with patients. But masking alone won ’ triiodothyronine protect you from Omicron, he adds. “ This is not about some magic trick bullet, this is about a combination effect, ” he says. “ If you ‘re vaccinated and you ’ re boosted and you ‘re wearing a good-fitting mask, you can spend a lot of time with person. ”

Do we still need to disinfect surfaces, stand further away from each other, or alter any other aspect of personal hygiene? 

Like prior variants, Omicron is primarily airborne, and experts agree that wiping down surfaces is probably more trouble than it ’ second worth. “ transmission from surfaces is low, ” Wyllie says. Given “ the time, energy, money, resources and genial health put into that kind of concern—you ’ re better spend that on handwash, social outdistance, and mask-wearing. “ besides, the six-foot rule is more of a admonisher that being close to an infect person increases the risk of transmittance, says Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases doctor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

“ Transmission can happen beyond six feet of distance, for certain, ” he says. “ however, distance makes transmission less probably, as aerosols get diluted with far distance. ” Your risk besides depends on public discussion, what kinds of masks people around you are wearing, and other factors .

Is long COVID still a risk when it comes to Omicron?

It ’ s besides soon to know, and it probable will be months before researchers can tell if Omicron causes symptoms that stick around for the long-run. But some experts are aspirant that farseeing lasting consequences will be less park because of Omicron ’ sulfur leaning to stay out of the lungs, and because more people are getting vaccinated, which can help prevent infections and lower risk of developing a number of symptoms. “ I would suspect we will silent see cases, ” Wyllie says. “ But because we have far more people now vaccinated, I am hoping we see less long COVID-19. ” Editor ‘s note : This fib has been updated to include more detail about John Moore ‘s mask preferences .

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