While the omicron BA.5 sub-variant has turned out to be the most contagious and immuno-evasive iteration of COVID-19, however, scientists have long known that many cases of COVID-19, regardless of variant, are completely asymptomatic. But how often the average person unknowingly contracted COVID was not known with high certainty.
Now, a new study reveals how people can spread the omicron strain of COVID-19 without even realizing it. Since omicron infections are frequently asymptomaticit has long been assumed that people infected with omicron could unwittingly transmit the virus simply because they did not realize they had been infected.
As the recent study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open makes it clear that more than half of people who contracted the omicron strain of COVID-19 were asymptomatic – and therefore likely unaware that they had previously been infected.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Hospital examined blood samples submitted by 2,479 healthcare workers and patients during the period immediately before and during the first omicron overvoltage. Within this group, they found 210 people who appeared to have recently been infected with the omicron variant based on SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their blood. These participants were asked to provide periodic updates on their health status. Soon it was revealed that only 44% of the infected participants knew they had the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their body.
The explanation for why 56% of infected participants didn’t know seems obvious from a key statistic: Only 10% said they had any adverse symptoms, and they usually attributed them to a cold or some other type. of infection.
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Salon contacted Susan Cheng, MD, MPH — the study’s corresponding author and director of the Institute for Healthy Aging Research in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai — to find out how unintended omicron transporters fueled the growing pandemic.
“It’s hard to say,” Cheng told Salon via email, pointing out that “it’s difficult to capture complete or comprehensive data on the status of infection in a given community or population at a point in time, then at multiple points over a period of time “that would be needed” to measure how fast a virus is spreading and what proportion of the spread is through or between people who were unaware.” Nonetheless, Cheng pointed out that “data from our study and others suggest that unrecognized infections likely played a major role in the spread of the virus throughout the pandemic.”
Sandy Y. Joung, MHDS, researcher at Cedars-Sinai and first author of the study, expressed a similar view in a statement on their research.
More than half of the people who contracted the omicron strain of COVID-19 were asymptomatic – and therefore likely unaware that they had been infected before.
“The results of our study add to the evidence that undiagnosed infections can increase virus transmission,” Joung explained. “A low level of infection awareness likely contributed to the rapid spread of omicron.”
When Cheng was asked if, based on their research, she thinks people should try to get tested for omicron even if they are asymptomatic, the doctor described it as a “good question” and said that based on other studies as well as their own, “it is very reasonable to do rapid antigen testing in situations after there has been a known or strongly suspected exposure to someone with COVID. “
In order to gather better information about omicron infections, the study authors said they would need to study a more diverse group of patients than those who participated in this study, who came entirely from a single patient. professional field (in this case, healthcare) .
“It often requires a large healthcare organization or a large number of people organization through some sort of structured effort to recruit and enroll large and diverse groups of individuals into a study,” Cheng explained. , adding that this should involve “not just a single point of engagement, but ongoing repeated engagement to track their progress with antibody metrics and health status over time.”
Cedars-Sinai doctors aren’t the only ones warning that a quiet wave of omicron infections is putting the public at risk. Earlier this week Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, Philadelphia Health Commissionerexpressed concern that it might happen while saying it would be the first major US city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate.
“If we don’t act now, knowing that each previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents,” Bettigole said. . “This is our chance to anticipate the pandemic, to put on our masks until we have more information on the severity of this new variant.”
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