Is it Omicron or Delta? Does it matter?
As we have heard, and many of us have sadly experienced, the Omicron variant is quickly spreading through communities like wildfire. Fortunately, the degree of disease it causes still appears to be more mild, especially if you have been vaccinated. But again, it’s all about the numbers. This week, in one day, there were 1.7 million new cases worldwide, almost double any previous day during the last 2 years. Pediatric cases are hitting record highs, just as are pediatric hospitalization from Covid. A small percentage of a large number is still a large number.
Is it important to know which variant you have if you have the misfortune of contracting Covid? From an epidemiological and scientific standpoint, it absolutely is. Not only can we track the progression of these variants, but we will also be able to identify newer, potentially more problematic variants faster.
In many places, the issue isn’t worth even debating since most labs in the US, especially if outside of a hospital, are not doing genomic testing anyway so you won’t find out which variant it is whether you want to know or not. Why aren’t they? Either because they don’t have the ability to do this specialized testing, called genomic testing, or they don’t want to spend the money.
Practically, it doesn’t matter. We are STILL in a pandemic with a very infectious virus. Whether we know it is 2 or 5, or at this stage 20x more infectious than the original strain, is irrelevant since in all cases, you need to continue to be vigilant, protecting not only yourself, but all those around you. The more it spreads, the more it mutates and the greater the chances of developing the worst case scenario of a highly transmissible and highly lethal variant. Presently, it’s highly transmissible but not very lethal. The sheer numbers are resulting in a lot of disease and death however. As I have mentioned above, a small percentage of a large number is still a large number.
It is also irrelevant from a treatment standpoint. The same treatments are available for all variants although presently, some of the monoclonal and antivirals seem to be less effective against Omicron. The vaccines may be a little less effective as well, but they are still very effective at not only preventing disease but also minimizing the degree of disease, while essentially eliminating the risk of death. The exception to that statement however are the vaccines which China (Sinovac) and Russia (Sputnik) have developed. These seem to be significantly ineffective against Omicron which is scary given the number of people who have received these vaccines, not only in those countries, but all the countries they have shipped those vaccines to.
From a quarantine standpoint, there may be some benefit in knowing since Omicron may hit faster, but become less infectious faster as well. In addition, vaccination reduces the degree and duration of contagiousness. But this information is dangerous and inappropriately used and taken advantage of by most people. Give people an inch, and they take a foot. It’s human nature.
Although many locations were initially reporting extremely high rates of Omicron infections, in retrospect, when the dust started to settle, the rates were a little less prevalent than initially thought. Still high, over 70%, but don’t think that Delta has been replaced completely. A friend of mine sent me a report of a patient actually being infected with both Omicron and Delta simultaneously. Rare, but in areas where both are still active, not impossible. And then there is the flu. And other coronavirus colds. And adenovirus. And rhinovirus. And croup. And strep… There are a lot of bugs out there to be cautious of contracting, and passing along to others.
In my opinion, the CDC has failed in their quarantining messaging. I can see isolating for only 5 days for specific, crucial workers, but the following MUST also be in effect:
- Symptoms must have been minimal initially and remain minimal or resolved at day 5.
- You must mask and maintain distancing for another 5 days. In addition, I think the mask must be an N95 or equivalent mask. Cloth or even surgical masks won’t do.
- You should avoid any vulnerable contacts for the full 10 days.
- I also think that you must have been vaccinated beforehand. Although being sick does provide significant protection moving forward, that protection doesn’t develop for 2 weeks after initial infection, well past the quarantine period. Whereas if you were vaccinated and boosted if appropriate, there is already some built in protection. Then why did you get sick in the first place if you were vaccinated? Because they are not perfect. Stop it with that stupid argument already.
- Isolated antigen tests should NOT be used as an indicator of contagiousness. There are too many false negatives. Negative SERIAL tests, separated by a few days, maybe of value.
Ultimately, you are sick and can get others sick. You are most contagious the 1-2 days before symptoms begin and 1-2 days afterwards but you can still transmit the virus for up to 2 weeks.
Please don’t be selfish and cut your isolation short if you contracted Covid. If for some reason you must wander out, mask and distance appropriately.
We are still in the throes of a pandemic. Media comments about this latest Omicron surge heralding the end of the pandemic is wishful thinking and way too premature. To me, it is starting to look like the virus ebbing and flowing may be the norm for a long time.
We have to learn to live with this virus and it will only happen if we remain careful and vigilant and look out for each other. I heard a great Ben Franklin quote this morning (and I am paraphrasing a bit) “We must, indeed, all hang in there together or assuredly, we shall hang separately”.
It’s been a while since I sait my mantra.
VACCINATE. And remember that “full vaccination” means boosted after 6 months from the last dose. Even if you had Covid, still get vaccinated or boosted.
VENTILATE. It is still a respiratory virus.
DISTANCE. 6 feet if you can. The 3 foot rule used by most schools is not enough.
MASK. They work, although some are much better than others.
HYGIENE. Although less of an issue for Covid, it is still very pertinent for the flu.
GET HEALTHY! Being in good shape is still your best plan to weather what is likely to be an inevitable Covid infection. I read a study looking at the severity of Covid symptoms based on the diet people followed. No surprise to me, those who followed a whole food, plant based diet did the best with 73% fewer severe symptoms as compared to people who ate a standard American diet. Pesco-vegetarians (without dairy) did second best with a 59% risk severity reduction. Those on an animal based ketogenic diet fared the worst. EAT MORE PLANTS!
Have a great weekend. Enjoy your family and friends safely.
Stay safe and be well.