A patient is transferred from an ambulance in front of the emergency room at Cotugno Infectious Hospital, which was overcrowded due to the Covid-19 variant Omicron, Campania, Italy, January 6, 2022.
Salvatore Laporta | CONTROLAB | Light Rocket | Getty Images
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the Covid omicron variant could lead to life-threatening illness for the unvaccinated, the elderly and people with underlying conditions.
Dr Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, said that people who are not immunized face a greater risk that omicron infection will make them seriously ill and possibly even kill them.
“Omicron remains a huge threat to their lives and a huge threat to their health,” Ryan said of non-vaccinators during a question-and-answer session broadcast live Tuesday on WHO social media channels.
Ryan said that vaccinated people, on the other hand, generally have mild illness if they develop a superinfection.
“People should look at this in terms of seriously considering getting out there and vaccinating,” Ryan said.
The elderly and people with underlying conditions have a higher risk of dying from omicron than other groups, said Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 at the World Health Organization.
“We know that mortality increases with oomicrons with age,” Van Kerkhove said. “We also have data from some countries that show that people with at least one underlying condition are at increased risk of hospitalization and death, even if you have an omicron compared to a delta.”
Van Kerkhove said that fewer people die from Covid during the Omicron wave, and the overall risk of severe disease and hospitalization is lower compared to Delta. She cautioned, however, that lower severity does not mean that Omicron only causes mild illnesses.
“It’s not just a mild illness,” Van Kerkhove said. “This is really important because people are still hospitalized for omicron.”
Van Kerkhove cautioned that people should not become lethal and succumb to infection, warning that the long-term health effects of omicron trapping remain unknown. She said people should be vaccinated, wear appropriate masks, avoid crowds and work from home if possible.
Ryan said the health outcomes of a viral infection often depend on a person’s baseline level of health, including whether or not their immune system is strong. Diabetics, for example, are not well equipped to fight off the virus.
“We can certainly say that one species of Omicron causes, on average, less serious disease in any human — but that’s on average,” Ryan said. “There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world in hospital as we speak with the omicron variant, and this is a very serious disease for them.”
Van Kerkhove said that omicrons have been discovered in every country with good genetic sequences and are likely to be present in every country. She said Omicron is overtaking Delta around the world and becoming dominant.
The World Health Organization reported 15 million new infections and 43,000 deaths worldwide for the week ending January 3.
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