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Study on the omicron variant: the proportion of asymptomatic infected people is higher than expected

Studie zur Omikron-Variante
Percentage of symptom-free infected higher than expected

This has been clear since the beginning of the pandemic: There are people who, despite being infected with Sars-CoV-2, do not feel any signs of illness. How much there might have been for the subvariant omicron is estimated by researchers using current research results.

Researchers found how many people infected with the omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2 did not notice it. The research team led by Sandy Joung and Susan Cheng of Cedar-Sinai Medical Center stated that more than half of the study participants were not aware that they were infected with omicron. This variant is associated with less severe symptoms compared to Alpha or Delta. At the same time, it is considered more contagious than all other predecessor variants.

For the investigations in the period between autumn 2021 and spring 2022, the data of a total of 6385 people was analysed. These were patients and employees of the clinic in Los Angeles. In addition, both tests were performed to determine the antibody against the so-called nucleocapsid protein of the coronavirus. This antibody is only formed in the body of infected people and not in those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Omicron infected excreted

The first test was carried out in September 2021, i.e. after the delta wave. The second from mid-December 2021, when Omikron has already become the dominant variant war. The researchers then identified the data from 210 study participants who only formed these antibodies during the omicron wave and were therefore most likely infected with the omicron variant.

Of the 210 subjects between 23 and 84 years old, 197 have already been vaccinated against Covid-19. The percentage of women was 65 percent and the average age was 51 years. 92, or 44 percent, of the test subjects said they were aware of a recent infection with Sars-CoV-2. While 118, or 56 percent, said they were unaware. 12 people, ten percent of the second group, also made it clear that although they noticed any symptoms, they attributed them to another illness, such as a cold, and not to Covid-19. The data also showed that those who were aware of Sars-CoV-2 infection tended to be younger and mostly belonged to the group of clinical workers.

Tests make the difference

This result cannot be explained only by the differences in general health awareness and health competence between hospital employees and non-employees. It is more likely to come from mandatory daily testing for medical workers, write the researchers, whose findings were published on the JAMA Network. The research team could not determine any difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in this respect.

The current results of the study also support previous findings. The researchers use this as an opportunity to pay attention again to the role of infected people without symptoms in the spread of Sars-CoV-2. The large number of people unaware of the infection may have been a factor in the rapid spread of the omicron variant in Los Angeles County. “Our study results show that undiagnosed infections can increase the transmission of the virus,” said the study’s lead author, Sandy Y. Joung, according to a statement from the clinic. “Low infection awareness probably contributed to the rapid spread of omicron.” Those who have no symptoms or attribute them to another illness are also less cautious. “We hope that people read these results and think, ‘I just went to an event where someone tested positive,’ or ‘I just started feeling a little freaked out. Maybe I should get tested quickly.'” Cheng adds: “The better we understand our own risks, the better we can protect the health of the public and ourselves.”

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