Thursday, September 28, 2023

Omicron threat has a silver lining? Cases soar but new data puts end in sight

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Omicron Threat: Data suggest hospitalizations are now decoupled from case numbers, and the variant causes less severe disease

A string of new studies has confirmed the silver lining of the omicron variant: Even as case numbers soar to records, the numbers of severe cases and hospitalizations have not. The data, some scientists say, signal a new, less worrying chapter of the pandemic.

“We’re now in a totally different phase,” said Monica Gandhi, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic.”

The Omicron threat was discovered in South Africa just over a month ago, and experts caution that there is still plenty of time for the situation to change. But data from the past week suggest that a combination of widespread immunity and numerous mutations have resulted in a virus that causes far less severe disease than previous iterations.

One study out of South Africa found that patients admitted to the hospital there during the omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus were 73% less likely to have severe disease than patients admitted during the delta-dominated third wave. “The data is quite solid now that hospitalizations and cases are decoupled,” said Wendy Burgers, an immunologist at the University of Cape Town.

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