A host of new studies have found that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is milder than previous iterations of the virus, including Delta. Unlike the other variants, Omicron is found not to attack lungs as severely.
"In studies on mice and hamsters, Omicron produced less damaging infections, often limited largely to the upper airway: the nose, throat and windpipe," The New York Times reported on Friday. "The variant did much less harm to the lungs, where previous variants would often cause scarring and serious breathing difficulty."
"It's fair to say that the idea of a disease that manifests itself primarily in the upper respiratory system is emerging," said Roland Eils, a biologist at the Berlin Institute of Health who studied how the coronavirus infect the airway.
"Experiments on animals can help clear up these ambiguities, because scientists can test Omicron on identical animals living in identical conditions. More than half a dozen experiments made public in recent days all pointed to the same conclusion: Omicron is milder than Delta and other earlier versions of the virus," The New York Times reported.
The paper cited a report by Japanese and American scientists who studied hamsters and mice that were infected with either Omicron or one of the earlier variants, and found that those infected with Omicron had less lung damage, lost less weight, and were less likely to die.
The scientists' findings reflect comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who stated earlier this week that "all indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta," referencing new data about the latest variant.
In a White House briefing on COVID-19, Fauci cited a study from the University of Edinburgh suggesting that the risk of hospitalization from Omicron is at least two-thirds lower than Delta.
"As we get further and further in the experience with Omicron — and perhaps even variants that might come after that — it's very, very clear: For example, with Omicron, if you have a larger number of infections — and as the data that I presented here indicate that there is — it looks like a significant lessening of severity compared to others — it becomes much more relevant as to what the seriousness of the impact on society is," Fauci said.
"We're never going to stop counting tests," he added. "But we're looking forward, as I think everyone feels is appropriate, that, ultimately, when we're going to have to, quote, 'live' with something that will not be eradicated and very likely would not be eliminated, but can actually be at such a lower level of control — namely a control that does not disrupt society, does not disrupt the economy — that it will be much more relevant as to what the level of seriousness of impact is, as opposed to infection, which might turn out to be milder."
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