Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the first doctor to alert the authorities about the omicron variant of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), told the public that the variant doesn’t deserve the hype because it only causes “mild” symptoms.

Coetzee, who serves as the South African Medical Association chairwoman, explained that the omicron variant has no prominent symptoms. “Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” said Coetzee.

Omicron symptoms were “unusual but mild,” says Coetzee

Coetzee said that symptoms of the omicron variant are “unusual but mild.” She first noticed the different symptoms while checking a 33-year-old male patient.

Symptoms of the omicron variant may include body pains, fatigue, headaches and “scratchy throat.” Meanwhile, previous strains of COVID-19 caused other symptoms like a sore throat, cough, and loss of taste or smell.

Coetzee said she was first alerted to the possibility of a new variant when patients at her private practice in Pretoria, South Africa visited earlier in November with coronavirus symptoms that “did not make immediate sense.”

The patients included young people of various backgrounds and ethnicities. Their symptoms included intense fatigue while a six-year-old child had a very high pulse rate.

None of her patients experienced symptoms often associated with other COVID-19 variants like a loss of taste or smell. According to Coetzee, her patients’ symptoms were “so different and so mild” from others she had treated before.

On Nov. 18, four family members all tested positive for coronavirus with symptoms like complete exhaustion. She then informed Africa’s vaccine advisory committee of the matter.

At least two dozen of her patients have tested positive for coronavirus with the milder symptoms of the new variant. The patients were “mostly healthy” male patients who said they were feeling very fatigued. 

After Coetzee briefed other African medical associations on Nov. 27, she clarified that her patients were all healthy. However, she advised that the new variant could still hit older people much harder, especially if they have comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease.

Compared to the U.K. or America, South African demographics are vastly different. In South Africa, only six percent of the population are older than 65, and this means that the country’s elderly who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 “may take some time to present.”

Omicron variant detected in several countries

The omicron variant was first identified in Botswana on Nov. 11. However, it has also been detected in the U.K. and in other countries like South Africa, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hong Kong.

Researchers say that the omicron variant is the most mutated form of coronavirus discovered to date, with 32 mutations to the spike protein. Experts are concerned that the mutations may allow the omicron variant to evade existing vaccines and spread quickly.

As of writing, there are two reported cases of omicron in the U.K., while two people in Essex and Nottinghamshire have also tested positive for the new variant.

U.K. officials are going over testing databases to check for any signs of the omicron variant, particularly because there were many South Africans in the Twickenham area of south-west London to attend the England and South Africa match last Nov. 27.

South African scientists say that the omicron variant caused the surge in cases in the country’s Gauteng province, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria. Cases have increased from 550 daily in November to almost 4,000 a day as of writing.

The U.S., the U.K., the European Union and Israel have all suspended travel to and from South Africa and the surrounding countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The U.K. added Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to the travel red list on Nov. 28.

The Western travel ban has also provoked a backlash among South Africans. Many have argued that they are being treated unfairly for “having outstanding research institutions and being transparent about their findings.”

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