New COVID Variant Omicron Appears to Produce 'Mild' Symptoms in Early Cases

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New COVID Variant Omicron Appears to Produce 'Mild' Symptoms in Early Cases
© Provided by People Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty COVID-19 testing

The new COVID-19 variant omicron appears to produce “mild” symptoms in the first reported cases, according to doctors and researchers in South Africa and the European Union.

New COVID Variant Omicron Appears to Produce 'Mild' Symptoms in Early Cases
© Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty COVID-19 testing

As health officials scramble to learn more about omicron amid fears that it could be the most contagious COVID-19 variant yet, initial cases indicate that it causes mild symptoms, or even asymptomatic cases.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first spotted the variant, said that she had started seeing patients in mid-November with “unusual symptoms” that were slightly different from the typical COVID-19 effects.

“It actually started with a male patient who’s around the age of 33 … and he said to me that he’s just [been] extremely tired for the past few days and he’s got these body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” she told the BBC on Sunday.

RELATED: What to Know About COVID Variant Omicron as WHO Warns It Could Be a ‘Very High’ Global Risk

Rather than a sore throat, Coetzee first patient had a “scratchy throat” and didn’t develop a cough or lose their sense of taste or smell, yet he and his family tested positive for COVID-19. Soon, she began seeing more patients with similar symptoms and flagged South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee that there could be a new strain.

Coetzee said that none of the patients she or her colleagues have seen with omicron needed to be admitted to the hospital.

And on Tuesday, the European Union’s public health body said that they’ve found 44 cases containing the omicron variant in 10 of their member countries, all of which had mild or asymptomatic illness.

RELATED VIDEO: Twin Sister Doctors Deliver Healthcare and COVID-19 Awareness to the Philly Community They Love

Still, the speed at which the omicron variant has spread and the fact that the strain carries around 50 mutations which have previously not been seen together has scientists and health officials concerned. Given omicron’s high number of mutations, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., said Saturday that “you have to assume” it could be the most contagious variant yet.  

“We have not detected it yet [in the U.S.],” he said, “but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and in other places — when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over.”

Researchers are currently studying the variant to learn more about how it spreads, and vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna are already testing their formulations against the variant.

RELATED: FDA Approves COVID Booster Shots for All Americans Age 18 and Up

But even if current vaccines are less effective against omicron, they can still make a difference, and Fauci urged unvaccinated people to get their shots and for Americans to get a booster dose, if eligible.

“It is absolutely essential that unvaccinated people get vaccinated and the vaccinated people get boosters,” Fauci said. “We know now clearly that when you get a booster shot … you dramatically increase the level of protection [you have].”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDCWHO and local public health departmentsPEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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