Patients hospitalised with Covid-19 variant Omicron infection face the similar risks as those infected with Delta, showed a study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, indicating that infection with omicron should not be underestimated.
The researchers, in the study published in the May 2022 issue of eBioMedicine, said that patients hospitalised with the Omicron or Delta variants of Covid-19 also required similar levels of respiratory support and intensive care.
“It is a common belief that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants. We wanted to put that to the test and see whether clinical outcomes and viral loads actually differed between delta and omicron infections,” said, Heba Mostafa, study’s lead author and assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The research team collected clinical specimens from over 2,000 patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, then determined which variant each patient had been infected with. Next, they measured viral load — the amount of the virus found in each patient’s body. Finally, they obtained each patient’s clinical outcome for comparison.
The study found that patients with omicron were less likely than patients with Delta to require hospitalisation, regardless of vaccination status. Only 3 per cent of patients with Omicron were admitted to the hospital, compared with 13.8 per cent of patients with Delta.
The study also found that patients with Omicron who required hospitalisation showed a similar need for supplemental oxygen and intensive care as hospitalised patients with Delta. For patients with Omicron admitted to the hospital, 67.6 per cent required supplemental oxygen and 17.6 per cent were taken to the intensive care unit (ICU). Similarly, 73 per cent of patients hospitalised with Delta needed supplemental oxygen, and 25.4 per cent required ICU-level care.
The study found no significant differences in viral loads between patients with omicron and those with delta, regardless of vaccination status. “The research shows it is imperative for people to take omicron and potential future variants seriously. It’s true that patients with omicron were significantly less likely to be admitted to the hospital than patients with delta,” said Mostafa.
“But Omicron patients who did need hospitalisation faced a risk of severe disease comparable to those hospitalized with delta. For many people, it is not a mild infection at all. With this analysis, we integrated the decoding of the virus’s genetic material with lab and clinical data in real time,” said Mostafa adding that this approach has been — and will continue to be — hugely valuable in understanding potential outcomes of newly evolving variants.
The data used in the study was taken from patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 between the last week of November 2021 and the end of December 2021. By the end of this period, omicron had replaced delta as the dominant variant, constituting 95 per cent of the circulating virus lineages.
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