While the world comes to terms with the emergence of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Dr. Angelique Coetzee—the South African physician who first raised alarm about the mutant—said on Sunday that the symptoms caused by it have been mild so far. She also added that patients could be treated at home.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who is also the chair of the South African Medical Association, averred that the symptoms noted in the patients at her clinic have been different from those caused by other variants of concern (VOCs) such as the Delta variant. This includes no reports of loss of smell or taste.
However, the other manifestations observed are "very mild". "The most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days. With them, the headache and the body aches and pain," Dr. Coetzee told a news outlet.
Symptoms Different from Other VOCs
The identification of the B.1.1.529 variant was announced on 25 November by South Africa's National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). A day later, on 26 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) named the newly-identified variant as Omicron and designated it as a VOC. Omicron was discovered in the samples collected from the Gauteng Province of the country.
Dr. Coetzee stated that a patient reported at her clinic on 18 November. He had been "extremely fatigued" for two days along with headaches and body aches. "Symptoms at that stage was very much related to normal viral infection. And because we haven't seen COVID-19 for the past eight to 10 weeks, we decided to test," she told Reuters. She added that the patient's family had also tested positive for COVID-19.
However, more patients arrived at her clinic presenting similar symptoms. It was then that she recognized "something else going on." Dr. Coetzee alerted the NICD on the same day and provided them with the clinical results.
Since then, she has been attending to at least two to three such patients daily. "We have seen a lot of Delta patients during the third wave. And this doesn't fit in the clinical picture," the physician highlighted.
Loss of Smell or Taste Absent
Another important observation made was that some of the symptoms that are common among patients suffering from COVID-19 caused by other VOCs such as the Alpha or the globally dominant Delta variant were absent. As of now, none of the patients infected with the Omicron variant have complained of ageusia (loss of taste) or anosmia (loss of smell).
Fall in oxygen levels has been one of the most carefully monitored vital in individuals with COVID-19. However, Dr. Coetzee mentioned that no significant drop in oxygen levels was observed in patients infected with the new variant.
While there has been widespread speculation about the potential acuteness of the illness the variant induces, the WHO stressed in its latest update: "It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta."
No Cause for Panic
Regarding the severity of the disease caused by the variant, Dr. Coetzee stated that the symptoms noted have been minimal so far. "Most of them are seeing very, very mild symptoms and none of them so far have admitted patients to surgeries. We have been able to treat these patients conservatively at home," she remarked.
However, based on the review of patients that she has treated so far, Dr. Coetzee noted that most of the individuals were 40 years old or younger. In an interview with CNBC, she said that she has handled patients who were a young as ten years old. Also, nearly half of the patients with Omicron-induced symptoms were unvaccinated.
Nevertheless, Dr. Coetzee emphasized that it was premature to agree on the severity of the Omicron-caused COVID-19 with certainty. "We are not saying that there will not be severe disease coming forward. But for now, even the patients that we have seen who are not vaccinated have mild symptoms," she told AFP.