Dr. Unben Pillay is seeing dozens of sick patients per day as the omicron variant sweeps through South Africa. Despite this, he has not had to admit anyone to the hospital.
That is one of the purposes he and other doctors and medical specialists assume the omicron strain causes milder COVID-19 than the delta strain, despite the fact that the delta stress appears to be more severe.
“They can manage the disease at home,” Pillay says of his patients. “Most recovered within the 10- to 14-day isolation period,” Pillay said. He added that this includes older patients as well as those with health issues that make them more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from a coronavirus infection.
Other doctors have shared similar stories in the two weeks since omicron was first reported in Southern Africa. While they all caution that it will take many more weeks to collect enough data to be certain, their observations and early evidence provide some hints.
According to the Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa:
- Only about 30% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks have been seriously ill, which is less than half the rate seen in previous pandemic waves’ first weeks.
- The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has been reduced to about 2.8 days, compared to eight days previously.
- Only 3% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized recently have died, compared to about 20% in previous outbreaks in the country.
“At the present time, virtually it all points to it being a milder disease,” said Willem Hanako, director of the Africa Health Research Center, citing national institute figures and other reports. “We’re still in the preliminary stages, and we need the final data.” Hospital admissions and deaths are commonly delayed, and this wave is really only two weeks old.
Meanwhile, scientists around the world are keeping an eye on case counts and hospitalization rates, as well as testing to see how well current vaccines and treatments are holding up. While delta remains the most common coronavirus strain worldwide, health check Home Depot omicron cases are appearing in dozens of countries, with South Africa serving as the epicenter.
Pillay works in the Gauteng province of South Africa, where the omicron version has taken hold. It is South Africa’s most populous province, with 16 million residents, and includes the largest city, Johannesburg, as well as the capital, Pretoria. According to health officials, Gauteng saw a 400% increase in new cases in the first week of December, and testing shows that omicron is responsible for more than 90% of them.
Pillay reports that his COVID-19 patients had “difficulty breathing and lower oxygen levels” during the last delta wave. “Many required hospitalization within days,” he explained. He said the patients he’s seeing now have milder, flu-like symptoms like body aches and a cough.
The initial symptoms
According to reports from cases in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States, the following are common early warning signs of Omicron:
- a scaly throat
- Back pain in the lower back
- Congestion/runny nose
- Pain in the head
- The act of sneezing
- Sweating at night
- Ache in the body
South African doctors was the first one to notice that Omicron patients had a scratchy throat, overcrowding, a chronic cough, and back pain.
Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurer, made the remarks after reviewing 78,000 Omicron cases.
Unben Pillay, a family doctor on Johannesburg’s outskirts, said that while it was still early days, doctors were “seeing patients present with dry cough, fever, night sweats, and a lot of body pain.”
Some of the older, more well-known symptoms do not appear to be as frequently mentioned in reports.
For example, a loss of smell and taste has rarely been reported by doctors in relation to Omicron, with some claiming that it is not a common symptom. It is also less common to get a fever.
“Hopefully, people now acknowledge the cold-like symptoms that appear to be the predominant feature of Omicron,” said Prof Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE study.