What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron

·1 min read

The Omicron variant doesn't cause as much severe illness as other variants have, but its "mild" symptoms can still be pretty unpleasant.

The big picture: The way health care professionals and doctors differentiate between "mild" and "severe" illness may not align with a layperson's understanding of those terms.

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"To a health care professional, 'mild' means you're not getting hospitalized," said Megan Ranney, academic dean at the Brown University School of Public Health.

  • But, she said: "Omicron symptoms can range from absolutely no symptoms to a really mild cold to something where you are in bed with shakes and chills, and have a horrible cough and are fatigued and headachy for weeks. Those are all 'mild.'"

  • A "severe," illness means you'd likely have symptoms such as very low oxygen levels, kidney damage and heart impairment, she said.

What we're watching: Omicron is causing a lot less severe illness than previous variants, but a "mild" case can still require about a week away from work, especially in front-line jobs.

  • And because so many people have gotten infected in such a short time, it's leaving schools, airlines, and other businesses — including, critically, hospitals — with large numbers of workers out sick simultaneously, The Atlantic reported.

  • Then there's the matter of long COVID. A study published Thursday in Nature Immunology found ongoing, sustained inflammatory responses following even mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases.

What they're saying: "It's going to be a messy few weeks. I don’t think there’s any way around it," said Joseph Allen, a professor of public health at Harvard, per The Atlantic.

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