The Omicron variant is spreading more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Delta variant. The CDC has stated that anyone with the Omicron infection can spread it to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t show symptoms.
The rapid growth rate in Omicron infections results from an increased transmissibility and the ability to disregard immunity conferred by past infection and/or vaccination (immune evasion). Current data unfortunately suggests a greater role for immune evasion than increased transmissibility. That means it is getting better at defeating a persons’ immune system even if less people are getting infected. Current opinion is that any immunity conferred by prior infection or vaccination is likely to be reduced compared with Delta.
The clinical severity outlook of the Omicron variation will strongly influence its impact on future U.S. hospitalizations and deaths. At present, early data suggest Omicron infection might be less severe than infection with prior variants but reliable data on clinical severity is very limited. Even if the portion of infections with severe outcomes is slightly lower than previous variants, this will be offset by the number of infections. The numbers of people with severe outcomes will remain significant.
The factors of increased transmissibility and immune evasion are in addition to ongoing Delta variant infections and an increasing number of illnesses caused by other respiratory pathogens (such as influenza, which have begun to circulate at greater frequencies).
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