SOME people appear at greater risk of the dangerous Omicron variant, it’s been suggested.
According to the doctor who first flagged the super-strain, a certain type of person has been falling sick – and with new symptoms.
Dr Angelique Coetzee on Good Morning Britain
Speaking of its discovery, she told Good Morning Britain: “For about eight to 10 weeks we hadn’t seen any new Covid cases in our region where we are practising.
“Then all of a sudden on the 18th November, I saw young men coming through with symptoms similar to a viral infection.
“We did rapid testing, they were positive for Covid-19.”
She said she initially saw a man aged 30 years old, and it was “very seldom” people of this age group come into her surgery.
After she saw seven other patients, she alerted an advisory panel that there could be a new variant spreading, based on the fact patients were younger and showing different symptoms than usual, and cases were rising sharply.
When the alarm about a new Covid variant was first rung last week, experts said that most of the cases had been in young people, with outbreaks at universities.
Dr Coetzee did not give an explanation for whether young people or men were testing positive for Omicron at a disproportionate level.
There is potential they are naturally more susceptible to it. However, there are a number of reasons that could explain the link.
For example, Dr Coetzee did not reveal if the young men had been vaccinated or not – but has previously told Reuters around half of those she has treated have not had a jab.
It may explain why young people are being seen at a higher proportion than older people, who are prioritised for Covid jabs.
Only a quarter of South Africa’s population has been double vaccinated, despite all over 18s being eligible for their two doses.
Asked if there was a pattern with Omicron patients and their vaccine status, Dr Cotezee said two fully-jabbed patients over the age of 60 years had come into the surgery over the weekend.
They had gotten their second dose of Pfizer in August, she said.
It suggests that even those with prime protection are at risk of picking up Omicron.
It comes after scientists have repeatedly warned the evidence suggests vaccines will not work as well against the new variant.
However, jabs are still the most crucial way of protecting yourself and family against the strain.
Symptoms and severity
Dr Coetzee has said the symptoms in Omicron are not the same as what has been seen with previous variants, including the dominant Delta.
Based on the patients she has seen before, she suggests the main symptoms are fatigue, body aches and headache.
The NHS has labelled the three key symptoms of Covid as a new cough, loss of taste/smell and high temperature for almost 18 months.
But as the virus has evolved, and people have gotten vaccinations, experts say it causes milder and slightly altered symptoms.
Dr Coetzee, who is also on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, told Reuters that unlike Delta, so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste.
She said all the patients she had seen herself so far had mild illness.
It’s not clear, however, if this is simply because they are typically younger.
South Africa’s health minister Joe Phaahla Dr Phaahla said young people, for whom vaccination rates are relatively low in South Africa, appeared most affected.
Asked by BBC’s Andrew Marr if young unvaccinated people are ending up in hospital, Dr Phaahla said: “Yes. Younger, unvaccinated people … 65 per cent of those they’ve admitted, who are mainly younger people, are actually those who are unvaccinated.”
Dr Phaahla said he has heard from GPs that the “majority of the people they’ve been seeing are mild”, but stressed it is “not proper research”.
Asked what he knows about how unwell people are who have the new strain, Dr Phaahla said: “It is still too early at this stage.
“Some of what I’ve read from some of our clinicians has been that thus far they have not witnessed severe illness. Part of it may be because the majority of those who are positive are young people.”
Experts are still working to find out if the variant causes more severe disease than previous versions, and to what extent vaccines will work less.
Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said: “We don’t know whether infection with Omicron will result in more severe or mild disease, although early indications from South Africa suggest that fully vaccinated individuals can get infected but develop mild symptoms.
“Hospitals in South Africa are seeing a rise in young people admitted with moderate to severe disease, many of whom are either unvaccinated or have received only one dose.
“This might suggest, as we hope, that full and boosted vaccination is able to protect from disease caused by the Omicron variant as it does for all the other variants.
“It will take a couple of weeks for laboratory studies to determine whether the antibodies induced by current vaccines are able to block infection with Omicron.”
Designated Omicron by the World Health Organization last weekend, the variant was detected and announced by South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) on November 25.
The UK acted rapidly to put new quaratine measures in place for several countries in southern Africa.
But the strain has since been detected nine times as experts admitted it was very likely it would ramp up in the UK.
In a bid to stamp out high-speed transmission, ministers have announced the reintroduction of a string of Covid restrictions.
This includes the return of mandatory mask-wearing in shops and public transport from Tuesday.
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