Dr. Alhayya says, “Omicron is currently the dominant variant circulating globally, accounting for >98% of transmissions. This has led to significant evolution. The World Health Organization (WHO) has added a new category to its variant tracking system, termed “Omicron sub-variants under monitoring” to signal to public health authorities globally, which variant of concerns lineages may require prioritized attention and monitoring. Currently Omicron AB.4 and AB.5 are the most watched variants due to significant impact on transmissibility, severity and/or immunity.
The new Omicron variant has replication advantage with increase in infections as well as immune evasion. That is they may escape humoral immunity and are associated with a higher risk of reinfection in patients previously infected with a different strain. However, the good news is that studies have been suggesting that the risk of severe disease or death with Omicron is lower than previous variants.”
Dr. Yadegar shares, “Previously, Omicron was very contagious, followed by its more contagious successors BA4 and BA5. Now, early reports indicate their sub-variants are the most contagious to date. It is a testament to the necessity of vaccinations with respect to decreasing COVID transmissibility risk, which is directly related to viral load and severe illness.”
Dr. Morrow reveals, “The good news is that the latest vaccine provides excellent protection against severe disease from the latest variants and Paxlovid continues to be an effective treatment. The bad news is that monoclonal antibodies are not as effective of a treatment for the new variants.”
Dr. Alhayya explains, “Omicron was first reported in Southern Africa in November 2021 and became the prevalent variant worldwide. Subsequently, various Omicron sublineages (BA.4 and BA.5) with increasing replication advantage have emerged. Omicron sub-variants evade infection- and vaccine-induced humoral immunity to greater extent than prior variants but are associated with less severe disease. Vaccine effectiveness against Omicron and its sub-variants is reduced against overall infection. However, effectiveness against severe disease remains substantial particularly among those who have received a booster dose.”
Michael D. Wang, Geriatric Medicine, Medical Staff at Beverly Hospital, Vice President, Clinical Affairs at Welcome Health Medical Group, a group specializing in senior care and home-based primary care tells us, “Certain viruses have long been known to change and adapt in order to survive. This happen with the influenza virus and is why the flu vaccine is re-engineered annually – in order to use the latest information to produce the most effective vaccinations for what’s coming. This latest booster was developed for similar reasons – to use the latest data to ready our defenses. In a recent study posted in the New England Journal of Medicine, a vaccine containing mRNA for an omicron strain boosted antibodies much more effectively when compared to a vaccine just containing the original strain. The new bivalent booster contains coverage for the original strain and the most common two omicron variant strains circulating during the summer and fall of 2022. Based on earlier clinical success with mRNA vaccines and antibody responses to an omicron cousin, we expect this new booster to be very effective.”
Dr. Morrow states, “People who get infected with COVID multiple times are in danger of getting long COVID, which can be crippling. There may be other long term ill health effects from having COVID that we don’t know about yet.”
Dr. Wang says, “Once infected from a virus and recovered, a person’s immune system often develops protection to future infecting viruses of its kind. However, that protection diminishes over time. Now that we are over 2 ½ years into COVID —and have had time for our immunity to wane — getting reinfected with coronavirus has been demonstrated. Moreover, these reinfections happen more easily with the emergence of variants. It appears that the more times our immune system is challenged, the better it is prepared to defend.
For example, if you get vaccinated in the beginning, boosters improve our defenses. If you get infected, then get the vaccine – or vice versa, you are primed with additional defenses. A study out of Qatar this year from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that if you got the infection, you were half as likely to get reinfected. But if you got vaccinated and boosted in addition to the infection, you were only ¼ as likely to get reinfected. Both scenarios were protective against severe infection. This is why keeping up to date with vaccines can be very helpful.”
Dr. Morrow tells us, “The COVID symptom that we are seeing most often these days is sore throat. Fever, chills and malaise are also common. Malaise is the medical term for that general yucky, sick feeling. What is problematic about this set of symptoms is that these are very similar symptoms to influenza, which will make proper diagnosis and treatment more difficult.”
Dr. Alhayya shares, “Not everyone one who gets COVID-19 develops symptoms. About 33% of people never showed any symptoms. However, patients with symptomatic COVID-19 usually present with cough, myalgias (sore muscles) , headache and fever. Omicron variants have been associated especially with mild upper respiratory symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing and sore throat.”
Dr. Wang explains, “Coronavirus infiltrates the passageways where air comes through: nose producing nasal congestion, throat leading to sore throat, deeper down leading to cough and sometimes difficulty breathing. The virus also triggers the immune system, producing body aches, fatigue and fevers. Occasionally it affects our gut causing nausea, stomach pains or diarrhea.”