OMICRON: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

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The world has experienced many disease outbreaks but none has been as evasive as COVID-19. Since its first discovery in 2019 to date, infections have skyrocketed with a new record number of positive cases. Multiple variants of the virus have also emerged alongside vaccines to combat the virus.

While vaccinations have proven to be effective, it is not uncommon to see vaccinated persons contract the virus. Understanding the prevalent variant of the virus, and how to manage symptoms once infected are important in treating infections, and controlling the spread of the virus.

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A VARIANT OF CONCERN

Omicron, like previous variants, display respiratory symptoms including breathing difficulty, coughing, sneezing, and fever. Symptoms that have shown to differentiate the Omicron variant include runny nose, stuffy nose, sore throat, fatigue, and headaches are common in Omicron infections according to Dr Carole Freiberger of St. Luke Medical Care, Kansas.

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Until a test shows you are COVID negative, do not assume it is allergies or the weather. At this point, it is best to assume you have COVID once you observe any symptoms. Asides sharing symptoms with other COVID variants, Omicron has symptoms that are very pronounced.  Dr Behram Pardiwala of Wockhardt Hospital mentions abdominal cramps, backache, loose motions and throat ache as symptoms of the variant.

Some other symptoms that are reported include rashes, night sweats, continuous cough, loss of appetite and fever. The cough in Omicron is unlike previous variants as it mimics bronchitis according to Dr Hugh Cassiere, director of critical care services for Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at Long Island, New York. Symptoms have been milder in vaccinated persons which reinforces the need to get vaccinated.

Although Omicron is believed to be more contagious than previous strains, that fact is yet to be verified.  Compared to other variants however, Omicron does have a shorter incubation period which would likely explain its rapid spread. Hence the need to increase precaution, and encourage vaccinations.

Existing vaccines have not proven to be completely effective in preventing COVID. Two jabs do not provide as much protection from Omicron; hence a booster is recommended. Pfizer and Moderna have announced the development of Omicron-specific vaccines; however, US Chief Medical Officer Anthony Fauci insists that an Omicron-specific vaccine is unnecessary and one booster jab is enough protection from serious symptoms of Omicron.

In contrast,  a recent study in the Nature Medicine journal reported that not all vaccines have the same efficacy against Omicron. This could seriously impact the global fight against the variant.

AM I INFECTED?

Unlike some other infections, you can have COVID-19, and not show any symptoms. It is possible to be infected even after getting vaccinated. Vaccinations do not rule out possible infection. Hence the need for testing.

The only way to validate whether or not you have COVID is by testing. Testing for COVID-19 has evolved rapidly due to the increase in demand for testing, which has included at-home tests. There are two major types of tests; Viral tests, and antibody tests. Viral tests check for the presence of the virus in samples collected. Antibody tests check for antibodies in the blood, which are created by the body to fight an infection, in this case, COVID-19.

Viral tests can either be laboratory tests or rapid tests. Lab tests are more reliable but take time to complete. These tests have to be taken at designated testing centers. Rapid tests also called self-tests, and over-the-counter tests are faster, and do not need any special expertise to be used.

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Rapid tests are sold at stores, pharmacies, and can be used anywhere; at home, a pharmacy, a doctor’s office. With almost no assistance, you can successfully carry out a test. Instructions are usually contained in the package on how to collect the sample, and run the test. If you are unsure of how to properly take the rapid test yourself, it is best to approach a healthcare professional instead.

Once you experience symptoms or have come in contact with someone who has contacted the virus, or showing symptoms, testing is necessary. Where symptoms occur, and the test result is negative, your illness is likely not COVID-19. However, negative tests results do not rule out an infection.

A false negative occurs when an infected person has a negative test result. This could be because the testing was done too early in the infection. You could later test positive when a test is done again. With the prevalence of COVID-19, and the quick spread of variants like Omicron, it is safe to assume you are infected until a test proves otherwise.

INFECTED. NOW WHAT?

If it is confirmed that you have been infected with COVID-19, the first thing to do is to not panic. There have been more recoveries than fatalities from COVID. Most cases are mild, and you can recover safely at home. However, where symptoms such as chest pains, troubled breathing, difficulty sleeping, discoloration of lips or skin occur, you must seek emergency care immediately.

You must alert those who have been in contact with you so they can get tested and isolated once a positive test is confirmed. You do not want to infect others with the virus so you must isolate yourself at home. If you live with others, isolating yourself in a room would help keep others safe. Wearing a mask, and staying at a distance from everyone in your household, including your pets, is necessary, and avoiding physical contact while you are still sick is very important.

To prevent the spread of the virus, hygiene is extremely important. Washing hands and cleaning surfaces with alcohol-based sanitizers are common practice, including thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing clothes and bedspreads, and doing so in a separate wash from other’s laundry.

When seeking medical care for your symptoms, it’s best to not go to the hospital unless recommended by your doctor. This is to keep others safe from getting infected. Telehealth sessions during the pandemic and currently have been proven useful to still get the adequate care while socially distancing yourself for the safety of others.

MEDICATIONS AND TREATMENT

In the United States, the FDA has approved a few medications for emergency use in life-threatening situations, along with oral antiviral medications to treat COVID-19. The WHO Solidarity PLUS trial includes studies conducted all over the world in a global collaboration to find the next best cure for COVID-19. Remedies that alleviate various symptoms and make it easier to manage the infection have been recommended, however it’s best to always consult with your doctor before self-treating with any kind of remedy, prescription or non-prescription.

For infections that result in milder symptoms, care at home and symptom relief is recommended. Common over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen have been shown to be effective in reducing fever, aches and pains. For cough, it is recommended you sit up, use a menthol-type topical like vapor rub or air humidifier to help breathing, and stay hydrated. Studies show lying face down instead of on your back can also help with mild breathing difficulty. For extreme breathlessness, seek medical care from your doctor right away.

Supplements like Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc, as well as natural remedies like green tea and ginger have been considered to help with COVID-19 symptoms, however studies are few and often times yield inconsistent results. Although there is some rationale to these remedies, more studies need to be conducted to conclude evidence. If you’re considering taking any supplements, it’s always best to consult your doctor or seek a professional such as a naturopathic doctor or herbalist for guidance. It’s best to keep in mind that just because these supplements are not prescription medications and labeled “natural”, it does not mean they are free from side effects or drug interactions. Natural remedies are not always safe. This means that you must be careful before taking any of them when you have COVID-19 symptoms. Taking enough fluid, eating healthy and resting well remain important to support recovery from infection.

CONCLUSION

As new variants of the virus emerge, following guidelines from medical experts are extremely important. With the every-changing landscape of the COVID virus, information not verified by recognized institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) should be taken lightly and with discernment.

This virus took the world by storm and caused an unprecedented pandemic that has disrupted the lives of many all over the world. We know a lot more than we did back in 2019, and we have more treatments and arsenals to fight and prevent the spread of this virus. Vaccines remain essential in reducing the spread of the virus and can mitigate the severity of infection, however it’s essentially up to us how long and how far this virus will continue to affect our daily lives.

Vaccines, boosters, masks, avoiding large gatherings, quick testing, social distancing, high hygiene standards, and eating healthy all contribute to keeping the spread of COVID-19 at bay. Together we can reduce the spread of the virus, save lives, and quickly put the brunt of this pandemic behind us.

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Zion Eludini-Olufemi
Health and Wellness Writer | Website | Other Posts

Health and wellness writer, Zion Eludini-Olufemi, has a knack for anything health and has been contributing meaningful content to this niche for years now.

He started as the content manager of Fitness Reloaded where he was in charge of content creation, editing and curation of marketing content.

Zion is passionate about writing insightful and engaging articles to enable people to live healthier, longer and happier.

He also owns a blog, Broken Cliches, where he dismantles wrong societal stereotypes and shares uncut truths.

Zion has a cat and is still unsure of what to name her. Ideas?