With another new, highly-transmissible COVID-19 variant emerging, we’re guessing you have a few questions about this new variant, known as Omicron. Don’t worry—in this post, we’re answering some of the most-searched questions about this new threat—what it is, how it spreads, and how to keep your family safe through protective measures and COVID-19 testing.
We’ll start with the origin of this new variant.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 was first discovered in November of 2021, with the first cases being identified a few days apart in Botswana and South Africa. By December 20, 2021, Omicron cases were being reported in most American states and territories.
One of the biggest differences between Omicron, the original strain, and previously-identified variants of COVID-19 is its transmissibility. Due to Omicron’s increased number of mutations, it spreads more easily, underscoring the importance of proper mask wearing, social distancing, and following the current isolation and quarantine protocols.
If you suspect you may have been exposed to COVID-19 (any variant), it’s recommended that you play it safe and protect others by isolating yourself—and getting tested when you can.
Health professionals and disease experts agree that vaccines continue to represent our best measure for slowing the spread and reducing the likelihood of severe illness. While “breakthrough” infections have been recorded with each COVID-19 variant among vaccinated individuals, the current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to offer the same level of protection against the Omicron variant.
From previous variants (Delta, for example), we have seen that the vaccines have proven largely effective in preventing the type of severe illness that can lead to hospitalizations as well as death. The CDC recommends everyone 5 years and older keep up to date with their vaccine and booster(s).
So far, every identified variant of COVID-19 has shared the same set of symptoms, which in itself is wide-ranging. Some infected individuals may experience a majority of the possible symptoms, while others may be completely symptom-free.
Common Omicron variant symptoms include cough, fever, and fatigue, as well as the possible loss of smell and taste. More serious symptoms, which you should seek medical attention for, include trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, and pale or blue-tinted skin or lips.
The incubation period—the time between being exposed or infected and the onset of symptoms—for the Omicron variant is the same as with other identified variants: 2 to 14 days. It’s important to understand that during this time, even if symptoms are not present, an infected person is still able to transmit the virus to others.
Whether fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or not vaccinated at all, once a person is infected with Omicron (or any variant), they are considered contagious. Recently updated information from the CDC notes that this variant causes symptoms to appear sooner than with other variants, but also resolve more quickly. The research suggests that the risk of transmission after 7 days is very low.
While this is a very common question, specific data around the question of whether an individual can be infected more than once with the Omicron variant isn’t yet clear. The science tells us that most individuals are unlikely to be reinfected again in the months immediately following initial infection, but it does happen.
The best public health measures for stopping the spread of COVID-19 and its variants remain unchanged, and include:
For up to date information on the Omicron variant and how to stay safe, we recommend this resource put together by the CDC.
Especially as Omicron variant research is ongoing, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around the virus, its symptoms, and how it’s spread. The possibility of being infected with any COVID-19 variant, experiencing no symptoms, and unknowingly passing it on to loved ones underscores the importance of reliable and timely COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
BioCollections Worldwide has been at the forefront of COVID-19 testing, offering testing you can trust and short turnaround times. Learn more about our COVID-19 related efforts on our website.