South African doctor who raised the omicron Covid variant alarm explains the symptoms

Covid symptoms linked to the new omicron variant have been described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC on Sunday that she started to see patients around Nov.18 presenting with “unusual symptoms” that differed slightly to those associated with the delta variant, which is the most virulent strain of the virus to date and globally dominant.

“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.

The patient didn’t have a sore throat, she said, but more of a “scratchy throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell — symptoms that have been associated with previous strains of the coronavirus.

Coetzee said she tested the male patient for Covid, and he was positive, as was his family, and then said she saw more patients that day presenting with the same kinds of symptoms that differed from the delta variant.

This prompted her to raise the alarm with South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee, of which she is a member.

Other patients she had seen so far with the omicron variant had also experienced what she described as “extremely mild” symptoms, and she added that her colleagues had noted similar cases.

“What we are seeing clinically in South Africa — and remember I’m at the epicenter of this where I’m practicing — is extremely mild, for us [these are] mild cases. We haven’t admitted anyone, I’ve spoken to other colleagues of mine and they give the same picture.”

Investigations ongoing
The WHO has said it will take weeks to understand how the variant may affect diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Coetzee’s initial observations are only based on a very small number of cases and experts are worried about omicron’s large number of mutations. Preliminary evidence suggests the strain has an increased risk of reinfection, according to the WHO.

Early data suggests the variant is spreading in South Africa more rapidly than previous variants did and that the variant, known formally as B.1.1.529, could be starting to trigger a new wave of infections, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

It could take a while to fully understand what specific symptoms, if any, are attributable to the new omicron variant on a wider scale.

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