Doctors caution against treating Omicron like the common cold

Justifying the revised shorter home isolation period for mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases announced by the Health Ministry recently, doctors note that going by available new data it has been found that the most infectious period is 2-3 days before the first symptom and 2-3 days after.

“This is good enough time to contain the spread, as even in the RT-PCR reports most people become negative by Day 7. However, Omicron should not be treated like the common cold. Greater spread means potentially more mutations,” said Mrinal Sircar, director – Pulmonology and Critical Care, Fortis Hospital Noida.

Doctors say that patients many times demand repeated COVID-19 tests because of the fear that they are not clear of the infection. Says Dr. Kapil Gupta, consultant – Emergency Medicine, HCMCT Manipal Hospital: “The pathology is only for ten days as most of the symptoms subside by then. So, the new guidelines are for seven days of home isolation and the last three days should be without fever. Government has advised against unnecessary testing once you have been cleared of the virus. We faced a problem of people coming for retesting during the first two waves. To use our resources optimally, we need to avoid this.

“We can only hope the other mutations that come up help improve herd immunity rather than make the virus more dangerous,” he said.

Even the United States’ CDC (Centre for Disease Control) guidelines has recommended five days of home isolation for mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. Thereafter they must self monitor for the next five days, but they can step out with mask and adhering strictly to COVID appropriate behaviour, said Gurmeet Singh Chabbra, director Pulmonology, QRG Super Speciality Hospital Faridabad. Thus far, the majority of Omicron patients, especially those who are fully vaccinated, has had only mild symptoms.

“Still, we have to take this seriously as increased transmissibility of Omicron, which is about 3 to 4 times that of the Delta variant, will result in a large number of patients. It is causing reinfection in those who had recovered in the past and breakthrough infection in those already vaccinated. Though hospital admission due to Omicron are 50 to 60 per cent less compared to the Delta virus, a large number of cases will result in overburdening of the health care system,” he said.

Mutation is a normal phenomenon during viral replication. Omicron too is a result of significant mutations — more than 50, over 30 of them in the spike protein itself.

Dr. Singh said it has been observed till now that Omicron mainly affects upper airways and bronchi with lung parenchyma involvement in a few cases. But unvaccinated or partially vaccinated or immunocompromised and high risk patients with co-morbid conditions are prone to severe disease.

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