Most people infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States have experienced mild symptoms, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Dec 9.
“The disease is mild,” Walensky told The Associated Press, noting that symptoms include cough, congestion, and fatigue.
No Omicron-related deaths have been reported in the United States or around the world to date. One person in the United States has been hospitalized so far.
The Delta variant still accounts for most cases in the United States, officials say.
About 40 cases have been reported in the United States after it was first named by the World Health Organization (WHO) in late November. Most of the U.S. cases have been young adults, and about a third had recently traveled internationally, the CDC told AP.
“What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be. … We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance,” Walensky said.
More than three-quarters of those patients had been vaccinated, and a third had boosters, Walensky said. Boosters take about two weeks to reach full effect, and some of the patients had received their most recent shot within that period, CDC officials said.
Some Omicron cases can become increasingly severe as days and weeks pass, she said, adding that the data is an early, first glimpse of U.S. Omicron infections. The earliest onset of symptoms of any of the first 40 or so cases was Nov. 15, according to the CDC.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 337 Omicron cases have been confirmed in the European Union, and about 1,458 cases have been reported worldwide as of Dec. 8.
The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa in November and has since been reported in 57 countries, according to the WHO.
Despite Omicron’s apparent mild nature, the United States, European Union, and other countries imposed fresh travel restrictions after the strain was named, while some heads of state said that new lockdown measures would be needed.
For example, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced so-called plan B measures for England over the Omicron variant. That includes new work-from-home measures, the extension of a mask mandate, COVID-19 vaccine passports being required for certain businesses, and more regulations.
Walensky’s comments to AP, meanwhile, come as Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare, a South African health care system, said most COVID-19 Omicron patients in Gauteng are mild and don’t need oxygen, noting that this is a change from previous outbreaks.
“While we fully recognize that it is still early days, if this trend continues, it would appear that with a few exceptions of those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at a primary care level,” Friedland said, according to broadcaster News24.
South African officials are “seeing breakthrough infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections we’re seeing are very mild to moderate,” he previously told Bloomberg News. “So for health care workers who have had boosters, it’s mostly mild. I think this whole thing has been so poorly communicated and so much panic generated.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.