Omicron may be less severe than delta, early reports suggest

New data from South Africa suggests the omicron COVID-19 variant may cause less severe infections than delta, though more research is needed to confirm this finding.  

In a Dec. 4 report, the South African Medical Research Council outlined the early experience of 42 COVID-19 patients treated at several hospitals in the province where omicron was first detected. 

In the last two weeks ending Dec. 2, 70 percent of patients did not need supplemental oxygen, and few have developed COVID-19 pneumonia. Four patients required a high level of care, and one patient was placed in intensive care. Overall, the average length of stay was 2.8 days compared to the 8.5 day-average seen in COVID-19 patients in the last 18 months. 

Health experts have cautioned against making definitive statements about the variant's severity, as research is still preliminary. Still, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said early indicators are "a bit encouraging."

"Thus far, it does not look like there is a great degree of severity to it, but we really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe," Dr. Fauci told CNN Dec. 5. 

The finding comes after scientists with the South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium released early data Dec. 3, suggesting the omicron variant may spread more than twice as quickly as delta. The findings have yet to be peer-reviewed. 


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