The Covid-19 Omicron variant has been in the news as the pandemic continues. How is this variant different, and does vaccination offer protection from it? Are there additional measures you should be taking to protect yourself? Keep reading to learn more about how to stay healthy.
How is the Covid Omicron variant different?
When viruses infect a body, they penetrate cells of the host and use host cell resources to replicate themselves. As viruses make copies of themselves, sometimes the DNA or RNA of the virus changes. This can happen as a result of a copying error or can be changes made to help the virus survive the immune system or any treatments that might be given to help fight the virus.
The Covid Omicron variant caught the attention of scientists due to the number of mutations that distinguish it from its predecessors. There are approximately 50 mutations in the Omicron variant, 30 of which are focused on the spike protein. The spike protein of the Covid-19 viral cell is what enables it to penetrate human host cells.
It is believed that these mutations contribute to Omicron’s high level of transmissibility. In less than one month, the Covid Omicron variant became the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the U.S., accounting for 73% of all Covid cases earlier in December.
Symptoms of the Covid Omicron variant
Just as factors like transmissibility can change with variants, so can symptoms. With the Delta variant, cold-like upper respiratory symptoms were more prevalent, while fewer people experienced loss of taste and smell. The Covid Omicron variant causes symptoms like other strains of Covid-19, especially fever, cough, muscle aches, and shortness of breath.
While there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure, anecdotal reports indicate that Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness requiring hospitalization. However, it’s extremely important to note that due to how highly contagious the Omicron variant is, there is a huge surge in hospitalizations due to more people at high risk of severe illness getting infected.
Does vaccination or immunity from previous infection give protection from the Covid Omicron variant?
The first confirmed death in the U.S. from the Covid Omicron variant was due to reinfection in someone who was unvaccinated but had recovered from a previous Covid-19 infection.
Experts agree that those who are unvaccinated are most at risk, as most vaccinated people who do get breakthrough infections will only experience mild symptoms. This is because the mutations of Omicron make it resistant to neutralizing antibodies, whether naturally produced as a result of vaccination, infection, or monoclonal antibody treatments.
How to protect yourself from the Covid Omicron variant
Recent statistics have revealed how highly contagious the Omicron variant is, making it more important than ever to follow Covid-19 safety practices. Even though the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous strains of Covid-19, the best way to avoid infection is by diligently following established recommendations.
Vaccination is the most powerful defense against Covid-19 that we have. It’s especially important to ensure you are up to date with your Covid-19 vaccinations, including your booster shot. Evidence so far suggests that having your booster shot significantly increases your protection from variants of Covid-19, including Omicron.
Manufacturers of vaccines are watching the emerging variants of Covid-19 closely so that they can take action if any variants prove to be too much for current vaccines to handle. Pfizer and BioNTech estimate that they will be able to produce a new vaccine to counteract a variant in roughly 100 days. For now, however, experts seem confident that currently available Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against disease severity, and moderately effective against infection caused by the Omicron variant.
Vaccines prepare your body to defend itself from Covid-19 so that even if you do get infected, the chances of getting severely ill are significantly reduced. They also reduce the likelihood of developing long-term symptoms related to Covid-19 infection, which some are still experiencing as long as a year after recovery.
Mask-wearing and social distancing
Wearing a mask and social distancing remain important tools in preventing the spread of Covid-19, especially during the winter season when most gatherings must take place indoors.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers comprehensive advice on how to maintain social distancing in various circumstances. It also explains what details to consider when deciding whether or not to participate in an event or activity.
As a refresher, here are some highlights from the CDC guidance for face coverings:
- Those not fully vaccinated who are 2 years or older should wear a mask in public indoor places
- Vaccinated people should wear masks when in close contact with those who are not fully vaccinated
- If you are in an area with high Covid-19 infection rates, you should wear a mask in crowds, even if you are outdoors, regardless of vaccination status
- People with medical conditions or who take medication that weakens their immune system should follow all recommendations for unvaccinated people, even if they are fully vaccinated
The importance of Covid-19 testing
Getting tested before or after social gatherings is a powerful tool in preventing the spread of Covid-19. The best way to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak at an event or gathering is to stop the virus at the door.
The most common test used for screening purposes is the rapid antigen test, which is available at most testing providers and in take-home kits from retailers. It should be noted that take-home test kit results are less accurate than those obtained from healthcare providers.
When navigating Covid-19 test screening requirements from various entities, it’s important to note which tests are being requested.
PCR tests are more accurate but can take longer to return results. Timeframes differ depending on the type of test and availability of the healthcare provider or limitations of the take-home test kit being used.
- Rapid PCR can range from 30 minutes – 24 hours, while standard PCR is at least 48 hours.
- Rapid antigen tests have a 1 in 5 false negative rate, as they are less sensitive than PCR tests, but return results in 15 minutes or less.
Can the antibody test detect an active case of Covid-19?
Antibody tests determine whether or not you have had a previous Covid-19 infection. It is important to note these tests are not designed to determine whether someone has natural immunity after infection. An antibody test that confirms previous infection is not sufficient proof of natural immunity. If you have questions about whether or not you should get vaccinated after getting a positive antibody test, you should consult your healthcare provider.
When should you get tested for Covid-19?
It’s important to know how exposure works so you know when you should get tested so you know how to keep others safe if you get sick. According to the CDC, close contact exposure occurs when a person is less than 6 feet away from an infected person for 15 minutes or longer in the same day. This time is cumulative, meaning exposure could be 3 separate instances that were only 5 minutes in duration.
- People who have Covid-19 symptoms, including:
- Fever, chills, or cough
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue, headache, muscle aches, or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat, congestion, or runny nose
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Fully vaccinated people should get tested 5-7 days after a close contact exposure
- People not fully vaccinated should get tested immediately after learning about the close contact exposure, and again 5-7 days later if the first result is negative. If symptoms develop within that time frame, test again immediately
- People not fully vaccinated who are prioritized for expanded community screenings for Covid-19
- People not fully vaccinated who have been referred for testing by a school, workplace, healthcare provider, or respective governing health department
The CDC’s Covid-19 Viral Testing Tool can help you discern whether you should get tested if you are uncertain.
Where to get tested for Covid-19
If you need to get tested, check with your local government or pharmacy to find testing centers close to you. You can also get tested at home with a DIY kit or an at-home medical service.
In-home appointments can especially benefit busy families looking to eliminate exposure to Covid-19 as much as possible. Rather than scheduling multiple appointments with different healthcare providers, you can arrange for one of our medical professionals to test your whole family on the same day.
This can especially be a relief for households with people at high risk of severe illness, who need the help of everyone in their social bubbles to stay safe. Many in-home providers also offer progressive group discounts for customers who choose this option, on top of any reimbursement that may be provided by your health insurance.
In-home Covid-19 testing options include:
- Standard PCR Test: This nasal swab test is the “gold standard” in accuracy in testing whether or not you are currently infected. Results are available in 1-2 business days.
- Rapid Antigen Test: This is also a nasal swab test that offers results in 15 minutes, determining whether you have a current infection.
- Rapid PCR Test: This nasal swab test detects current infection with high accuracy, similar to the Standard PCR Test, but returns results in 2-4 hours without lab processing.
- Antibody Test: This is a blood test designed to determine whether you have had a previous Covid-19 infection. Results are available in 1-3 days.
Get Covid-19 Testing At Home With Drip Hydration
If you are looking for a convenient and safe way to get tested for Covid-19, consider Drip Hydration. You can call or book an appointment online for one of our healthcare experts to visit your home and administer a Covid-19 test.
Drip Hydration is dedicated to providing professional, convenient, and safe healthcare at home for all your Covid-19 testing needs. Reach out to book an appointment today!