You will all be aware by now of the increasing rates of the latest variant of coronavirus, Omicron. Omicron appears to be relatively new but appears that it will soon overtake Delta as the dominant strain of coronavirus worldwide.
We wanted to take this opportunity to update you on what we know about Omicron.
- Omicron appears to be much more infectious than previous variants– this means that it is much easier to pass Omicron on to other people and you are more likely to be infected if you are in contact with someone who has Omicron than if they had other variants
- Omicron appears to be able to “escape” vaccines better than previous variants– due to the structural changes on Omicron, the antibodies your bodies have created to either vaccination or previous infection don’t recognise Omicron as well and so you may be less protected than you are to other variants whilst still being infectious to others – boosters appear to help increase your antibody levels to help combat their decreased effectiveness against Omicron
- Omicron appears to have different symptoms in vaccinated people compared to previous variants– in people who have been vaccinated, or have had covid before, we are getting many reports that Omicron can present with no symptoms or mild symptoms that you would have with a cough or a cold
- Omicron appears to still be able to cause significant illness or death- there is no evidence as yet that Omicron will not lead to people becoming seriously ill or dying, especially those who have poor immunity or who have not had any immunisation or previous infection
At this stage, it appears that Omicron is highly infectious, spreads easily, and that if you have antibodies already, you may have no or very mild symptoms that you usually wouldn’t worry about. And whilst this appears to be “good news”, the fact that you are less likely to be aware that you have Omicron whilst still being infectious with a highly infectious variant of coronavirus, means you are more likely to spread it. Unfortunately there are people who have low or poor immune systems and in these people, despite being immunised, getting any strain of coronavirus could easily lead to them becoming seriously unwell, being admitted to hospital, and even dying.
Therefore, at this time, we ask you, our patients:
- to continue good infection control practices, wearing your mask when you are in a building or in an enclosed space, or when outside and you cannot safely socially distance, washing your hands well with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds before you touch your hands, face or eyes, or eat or drink anything
- to order a PCR test if you have any symptoms of a cough or cold or believe you may have coronavirus or suspect you may have been in contact with someone with coronavirus
- to isolate if told to do so by a doctor or the NHS Test and Trace service
- to not attend the surgery unless you have had a negative PCR test if you have any symptoms of a cough or a cold or you believe you may have coronavirus or suspect you may have been in contact with someone with coronavirus
If you have done a PCR test, until your PCR result is back, it is safer for you and for those around you and those you meet for you to remain at home. As we know the symptoms of Omicron can be similar to that of a mild cough or cold, and you should obtain a PCR test, if you have mild cough or cold symptoms, you too should remain at home until you receive a negative PCR test result- this is normally the next day so this should not be a long wait.
What is the fuss about PCR tests? I’ve done lateral flow tests every day and they are all negative
Lateral flow tests (the home tests that give you a result in 30 minutes or less) are only licensed for use in the UK for testing if you DO NOT have symptoms of Coronavirus. It works by detecting parts of the virus on your nose and throat swab but relies on there being enough virus particles to be there to react with the test kit. It has been used as a marker of “infectivity”, ie, if you are infectious to others, but comes with some caveats.
A PCR test is the “gold standard” test for coronavirus. It works by detecting even the lowest number of viral genetic sequence on your nose and throat swab and then using PCR this then replicates the virus over and over again to allow it to be detected. This test needs only the smallest amount of virus to be able to detect infection. Therefore, a negative PCR test means that at the time of taking the swab, you did not have coronavirus.
Although we do not yet know why, we have seen increasing numbers of people repeatedly test negative on lateral flow tests yet then go on to test positive on a PCR test. Some may say this is due to technique, but it may be due to the fact that if you have antibodies due to being immunised or having had a previous infection, your body may be keeping the levels of coronavirus down in your body. These low levels mean that the lateral flow test cannot detect the virus as the levels are too low for the test to work. However, as the PCR test can detect even the lowest number of virus particles, the PCR test shows the correct postive result.
This explains why we ask you to get a PCR test, not a lateral flow test, if you have symptoms, even cough or cold symptoms or even if you still have your sense of taste or smell. We need you to have the gold standard test.
To order a free PCR test, call 119 or visit the governement website here. (Note PCR tests for travel are not free and cannot be booked through 119 or the government website)
But does it matter if you know if it’s Covid or not?
Yes, it is important for us to know whether or not you have coronavirus. If you have coronavirus then we need to know so we can ensure that we give you the correct care including referring you for home monitoring if necessary and ensuring you do not need hospital admission. It is also important for you to know and those you have been in contact with.
If your test is negative, this also helps us as we can individualise any treatement you may need, knowing that you do not have coronavirus.
I had Covid earlier this year so I am now immune from Covid, including the Omicron variant
It would be nice if that was the case and, like immunisations, most people should create a good immune response to coronavirus if they have caught it. However, the antibody response in those who have had coronavirus and those who have had immunisations appears to wane over time for reasons we do not yet know. And there are many documented cases of patients who have had coronavirus and then got it again. Therefore we recommend that anyone eligible and entitled to a free coronavirus immunisation, including boosters, takes up this offer.
13 December 2021