Omicron’s lower death rate may be explained by how the variant spreads throughout the body

Although the omicron variant is spreading like wildfire across the United States, some scientists have cautiously expressed the cautious hope that its emergence could still mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Maybe this will mark when COVID-19 becomes an endemic virus (as opposed to pandemic) like the flu; or, it could bode well that infected patients appear to be less sick than they would have been with other strains.

It turns out that this last line of thought may have some credibility. SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant has a harder time replicating in human lung tissue than the delta strain or SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong. ‘origin. Indeed, the omicron was more than 10 times less effective than the original virus in this regard.

Medical researchers believe this could explain why so many patients can resist infections caused by omicron, and why in some countries, such as South Africa, hospital admissions have been comparatively lower per capita. The hypothesis is that COVID-19 gets worse when it spreads from the respiratory system to the rest of the body; confining it to the upper respiratory tract (i.e. outside the lungs) therefore becomes essential to avoid severe symptoms.

If this finding is confirmed in future studies, it could explain some of the mysteries surrounding the omicron.

Since becoming a major strain of COVID-19 last month, omicron has quickly changed the course of the pandemic. Last week, this led to Europe posting a record number of coronavirus infections every day, and the United States set new daily records of cases in what was certainly an undercount as well. Its dominance was visible in local statistics; in New York, for example, omicron fueled a record level of hospitalizations linked to COVID-19.

Yet despite this grim news, there have also been more encouraging signs. Although the omicron strain has caused an inevitable increase in COVID-19 cases, there has been a much lower rate of hospitalization in the United States linked to the omicron outbreak than with other outbreaks of the mutant variants. A UK report found that patients with omicron are half as likely to require hospitalization and a third as likely to need an emergency as those wearing the delta variant. All of the studies found that patients who had been vaccinated were much less likely to develop serious illnesses if they were infected.


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Perhaps the most revealing study is the one that took place in South Africa, near the native omicron variant (it probably originated in neighboring Botswana). Looking at omicron cases in Gauteng province, the authors found that the percentage of people hospitalized during the omicron wave was about a third of the number who needed to be hospitalized during the delta wave – a drop of 10 percent, up to 4.9 percent. . People in hospital stayed about half the time (4 days instead of 7 or 8 days), a statistic no doubt related to the fact that less than 30% of omicron patients met regional criteria for severe illness. This was half the number that made it for the previous variations.

As the authors wrote in their study: ‚ÄúDuring the first four weeks of the Omicron-dominated fourth wave, the proportion of patients requiring hospitalization was considerably lower and those admitted had less severe disease, with fewer oxygen, mechanical ventilation and intensive care. compared to the first four weeks of beta or delta dominated waves in Gauteng Province, South Africa. “

The authors of the University of Hong Kong study cautioned observers against over-reading their findings. On the one hand, the document has yet to be peer reviewed and its conclusions need to be tested further for definitive confirmation. In addition, there are other mechanisms of serious infection with COVID-19 besides passing through the lungs.

“It is important to note that the severity of the disease in humans is not determined only by the replication of the virus but also by the host’s immune response to infection,” explained the lead author, Dr. Michael Chan, in a statement.

The rise of Omicron, explained:

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