If you're unlucky enough to need hospitalization for COVID-19, it won't really matter which variant you're infected with: The same level of care is required for patients with either Delta or Omicron, a new study reveals.
This is true even though people infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are much less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, the study authors said.
"It's true that patients with Omicron were significantly less likely to be admitted to the hospital than patients with Delta. But Omicron patients who did need hospitalization faced a risk of severe disease comparable to those hospitalized with Delta," said lead study author Heba Mostafa. She is an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore.
"For many people, it is not a mild infection at all," Mostafa added.
For the study, the investigators analyzed specimens from more than 2,000 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in order to identify whether they had Delta or Omicron, and to determine their viral load - the amount of virus in the body.
The researchers also compared the patients' outcomes, and found that only 3% of those with Omicron were hospitalized, compared with nearly 14% of those with Delta.
But among hospitalized patients, about 68% of those with Omicron and 73% of those with Delta required supplemental oxygen. Almost 18% of those with Omicron and about 25% of those with Delta were admitted to intensive care, the study authors reported.
There were no significant differences in viral loads between patients with Omicron and those with Delta, regardless of vaccination status, according to the report published in the May issue of the journal eBioMedicine.
"It is a common belief that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants," Mostafa said in a Hopkins news release. "We wanted to put that to the test and see whether clinical outcomes and viral loads actually differed between Delta and Omicron infections."
The findings show the need to take Omicron and future variants seriously, she added.
The patients in the study tested positive for COVID between the last week of November 2021 and the end of December 2021. By the end of this period, Omicron had replaced Delta as the dominant variant.
For more on COVID-19 variants, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, April 25, 2022