Kampala | RedPepper Digital – A spike in Omicron infections has prompted a wave of worry in Uganda. And it’s not just here. The UK is worried, too. But those worries are dampened by promising vital data on symptoms and hospitalizations.
The official Twitter account of the ministry of Health Uganda shows the test positivity rate in Uganda has climbed to about 12.3 per cent up from a single-digit rate. Results of COVID-19 tests done on December 25, 2021, confirmed 743 new cases, a record-breaking climb from about 50 to 100 cases a few months before.
The cumulative confirmed cases climbed to 135,091. A day before on December 24 about 1,116 new cases were confirmed. But the threat of the spike in infections pales in comparison to the number of hospitalizations. Of the 743 new cases confirmed on December 25, there are only 69 active cases admitted at health facilities across the country in weeks.
Out of the 135,091 cumulative confirmed cases, there are 98,287 recoveries and only 5 new deaths. A major international analysis has found that people catching Omicron are 50% to 70% less likely to need hospital care compared with previous variants.
Another finding suggests the traditional symptoms seen in previous waves are no longer prevalent. The highly transmissible variant is generating crucial insights as it sweeps through. Much of this data is being uploaded to the ZOE Symptom Tracker App, which provides real-time updates on the variant from millions of users.
The ZOE data suggests the traditional symptoms seen in previous waves are no longer prevalent. In fact, focusing on them will mean cases of Omicron will slip through the cracks. That’s the ominous assessment from Professor Tim Spector, who heads up the ZOE Symptom Tracker App.
The “classic” symptoms associated with the Delta variant and its predecessors have been largely supplanted by cold-like symptoms, he explained.
Loss of smell or taste is being reported less. A fever and a new continuous cough are no longer dominant, noted Prof Spector.
The following symptoms Omicron:
What’s also “slightly different” with Omicron is that users are reporting the loss of smell or taste less often, said Prof Spector.
Data out of South Africa pointed to this trend and data generated by the ZOE app confirms that it does occur but it’s less common, he reported.
“Fever was slightly less and cough was about the same,” the ZOE lead scientist noted.
According to Prof Spector, “it makes no sense at all” why guidelines have not been updated to reflect this evolving picture.
Waiting for those traditional symptoms to surface before getting tested is therefore ill-advised because cases of Omicron will be missed, he warned. In fact, as the ZOE professor pointed out, there are 20 possible symptoms of COVID-19.
50% TO 70% LESS LIKELY TO NEED HOSPITAL CARE
The UK Health Security Agency says its early findings are “encouraging” but the variant could still lead to large numbers of people in hospital. The health secretary said it was “too early” to determine “next steps”.
The study also shows the jab’s ability to stop people from catching Omicron starts to wane 10 weeks after a booster dose.
Protection against severe disease is likely to be far more robust. The report comes hot on the heels of data from South Africa, Denmark, England, and Scotland, which all pointed to reduced severity.
Omicron wave appears milder, but concern remains. The latest analysis is based on all cases of Omicron and Delta in the UK since the beginning of November, including 132 people admit- ted to hospital with the variant. There have also been 14 deaths in people within 28 days of catching Omicron.
The report shows people catching Omicron are 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital for treatment. However, a milder virus could still put pressure on hospitals because it spreads so fast.
The issue remains that any benefit of a milder virus could be wiped out by large numbers of people catching Omicron. The UK has set another daily Covid record with 119,789 confirmed cases. There were a further 147 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
There is also uncertainty about what will happen when Omicron reaches older age groups because most of those catching it and going into hospital so far have been under the age of 40. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the early data was “promising” and the government was monitoring the data “hour-by-hour”.
But he warned: “Cases of the variant continue to rise at an extraordinary rate – already surpassing the record daily number in the pandemic. Hospital admissions are increasing, and we cannot risk the NHS being over- whelmed.”
Dr. Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UKHSA, said: “Our latest analysis shows
an encouraging early signal that people who contract the Omicron variant may be at a relatively lower risk of hospitalization than those who contract other variants.
“Cases are currently very high in the UK, and even a relatively low proportion requiring hospitalization could result in a significant number of people becoming seriously ill.”
The variant is mostly infecting people who have been infected with other variants before or who have been vaccinated. Both give the immune system a head start. However, laboratory studies have also shown changes in how Omicron infects our bodies. It is better at infecting our airways rather than the deep tissues of the lungs – this could make it easier for the variant to spread, but milder as it is further away from the delicate parts of the lungs.
Prof Ravi Gupta, who performed those studies at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: “The clinical data on reduced severity fit with lab data suggesting Omicron has shifted its preference.
“Vaccination remains vital to protect against severe disease and also to protect against future variants.”
There are also signs that the effect of booster doses is waning. Two doses of a vaccine were shown to offer limited protection against catching Omicron, which was then restored with a booster dose.
However, the report says this protection drops by between 15% and 25% after 10 weeks. This is still better than having no booster dose and the protection against severe disease or death is likely to be even greater.
There are no suggestions that a fourth dose will be rolled out in the UK anytime soon and there will be discussions over whether to wait for an updated vaccine.