Healthcare

Omicron infects 70 times faster than previous COVID strains: study

A new study says that while the COVID-19 omicron variant infects the human body 70 times faster than previous coronavirus strains, the infections appear to be less severe.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong’s LKS Faculty of Medicine found that after 24 hours of infection, the omicron variant multiplied in the human bronchus 70 times faster than the delta variant and original coronavirus strain.

They also discovered that omicron infection in the lungs was “significantly lower” than the initial COVID-19 strain, “which may be an indicator of lower disease severity,” according to a statement from the university.

The strain replicated in human lung tissue at a rate that was more than 10 times lower than the original COVID-19 strain, which suggests that it may cause less-severe illness.

The research, however, is still under peer review for publication. The researchers examined lung tissue removed for treatment that was infected with the omicron variant.

Michael Chan Chi-wai, the lead researcher on the study, noted that virus replication is not the only factor that determines disease transmissibility.

“It is important to note that the severity of disease in humans is not determined only by virus replication but also by the host immune response to the infection, which may lead to dysregulation of the innate immune system, i.e. ‘cytokine storm,’” Chan said in a statement.

He also said that even if a virus proves to be less pathogenic, its highly infectious nature could cause more severe disease and death, which is why he said the threat from the omicron strain is “likely to be very significant.”

“It is also noted that, by infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic. Therefore, taken together with our recent studies showing that the Omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from Omicron variant is likely to be very significant,” Chan said.

The study serves as an initial look at the omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa last month and has a high number of mutations.

The strain has already spread to a number of countries across the globe, including the U.S. and United Kingdom.

Health experts worldwide are racing to determine the severity and transmissibility of new variant, in addition to how well existing vaccines protect against the strain.

A preliminary study released last week from researchers in Cambridge, Mass., said the omicron variant could be much more transmissible than previously believed to be because it may have evolved from the virus associated with the common cold.

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