IOHANNESBURG (AP) – While the Omicron variant is touring South Africa, Dr. Unben Pillay sees dozens of sick patients a day. Still, he didn’t have to send anyone to the hospital.
That’s one of the reasons he, along with other doctors and medical professionals, suspects that the Omiron version is producing COVID-19, which is lighter than the delta, even though it seems to be spreading really fast.
“They are able to manage the disease at home,” Pillay said of his patients. “Most recovered during the 10-14 day isolation period.” said Pillay.
And that includes elderly patients and health problems that could make them seriously ill from a coronavirus infection, he said.
In the two weeks since Omicron was first reported in South Africa, other doctors have reported similar incidents. Be careful that it takes more weeks to gather enough data to be sure, their observations and initial evidence will give some tips.
According to the South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases:
– In recent weeks, only 30 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have been seriously ill, less than half as many as in the first weeks of previous pandemic waves.
– The average hospital stay for COVID-19 was shorter this time – about 2.8 days compared to eight days.
– Only 3 percent of patients recently hospitalized with COVID-19 have died, compared to about 20 percent in previous epidemics in the country.
“At the moment, almost everything indicates that the disease is milder,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the African Health Research Institute, citing national institute figures and other reports. “These are early days and we need to get the final information. Often hospitalizations and deaths occur later, and we are only two weeks away from this wave.
Meanwhile, scientists around the world are monitoring incidence and hospitalization rates as they test to see how good current vaccines and treatments are. Although Delta is still the dominant coronavirus strain worldwide, omicron cases are increasing in dozens of countries, with the epicenter in South Africa.
The Pillay operation is being conducted in the country’s Gauteng province, where an omicro version has been used. With a population of 16 million, it is the busiest province in South Africa, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria. In the first week of December, Gauteng saw a 400% increase in new cases, and tests showed that omicrons were responsible for more than 90% of them, according to health officials.
Pillay said his COVID-19 patients had “breathing problems and low oxygen levels during the last delta wave. Many had to be hospitalized within a few days,” he said. Patients he is currently treating have milder, flu-like symptoms such as body aches and coughs, he said.
Pillay is the director of an association representing nearly 5,000 general practitioners in South Africa, and his colleagues have documented similar observations about omicron. Netcare, the largest private medical provider, also reports less severe cases of COVID-19.
But the number of cases is growing. South Africa confirmed 22,400 new cases on Thursday and 19,000 on Friday, up from 200 a day a few weeks ago. Health Minister Joe Faaxla said on Friday that the new growth had infected 90,000 people in the past month.
“Omicron has spurred recovery,” Phaahla said, citing research that found that 70 percent of new cases nationwide are from omicrons.
In the current wave, the rate of coronavirus proliferation – representing the number of people who can be infected by one person – is 2.5, the highest rate recorded during a pandemic in South Africa, he said.
“Because this is a very transmissible option, we are seeing growth that we have never seen before,” said Vaasila Jassat, a data observer at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases Hospital.
Jassat said that in the current wave, 86 percent of hospitalized patients have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. COVID patients in hospitals in South Africa are now younger than in other periods of the pandemic: about two-thirds are younger than 40 years old.
Jassat noted that while the initial symptoms are less severe than Omiron’s disease, new COVID-19 cases could still overwhelm hospitals in South Africa and lead to an increase in the number of severe symptoms and deaths.
“It’s always a risk associated with waves,” he said.