Omicron overrated? Most patients with this COVID variant don’t even know they’re sick

LOS ANGELES — COVID’s Omicron variant has continued to mutate and prolong the global pandemic, with some studies saying the virus is now more infectious and can cause even more severe symptoms. However, a new study finds the majority of people infected by the Omicron variant don’t even know they have it!

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center say a staggering 56 percent of COVID-positive individuals didn’t know they were sick. This lack of awareness has led to a surge in Omicron cases, according to scientists.

The symptoms often aren’t severe. Many patients usually suffer from fatigue, a cough, headaches, a sore throat, or a runny nose. Researchers looked into the effects of COVID and the impact of vaccines on the illness’s severity.

The investigation started over two years ago. The team tested the blood of healthcare workers and patients for antibodies that fight against the Omicron variant and surveyed whether those with antibodies were aware they had the virus.

“More than one in every two people who were infected with Omicron didn’t know they had it,” says Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, in a media release. “Awareness will be key for allowing us to move beyond this pandemic.”

“Our study findings add to evidence that undiagnosed infections can increase transmission of the virus,” adds first author Sandy Joung, MHDS, an investigator at Cedars-Sinai. “A low level of infection awareness has likely contributed to the fast spread of Omicron.”

Up to 4 in 5 people with Omicron have no symptoms

Of the 2,479 participants who contributed blood samples, 210 had positive levels of antibodies. This result indicates that they likely carried the virus at some point.

The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, shows that out of those infected only 44 percent were aware they were sick. This left the majority of participants unaware of their infection, as they had either mild symptoms or none at all.

This research compliments previous studies that estimate between 25 to 80 percent of people with the Omicron variant do not show symptoms. The results show the importance of awareness in tackling surges of infections in the future.

The study authors add more diverse research is necessary to uncover factors associated with a lack of infection awareness. Researchers also believe scientists need to collect more samples from diverse ethnicities and communities.

“We hope people will read these findings and think, ‘I was just at a gathering where someone tested positive,’ or, ‘I just started to feel a little under the weather. Maybe I should get a quick test.’ The better we understand our own risks, the better we will be at protecting the health of the public as well as ourselves,” says Cheng, the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science at Cedars-Sinai.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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