By Mary Hearty

Despite increasing information that Omicron is a less severe variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) has affirmed that people who are infected with the variant still have a risk of developing long term consequences or post-COVID conditions.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead said during a Science in 5 session, adding that because Omicron is reported to be less severe does not mean that those who do not have underlying conditions and have less advanced age are now off the hook.

Three common long COVID conditions include shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction-which people call brain fog, and fatigue. Other 200symptoms have been reported in patients including chest pain, trouble speaking, anxiety or depression, muscle aches, fever, loss of smell and taste, according to Dr Janet Diaz, Head of Clinical Care within the WHO Emergencies Program in a previous WHO “Science in 5” interview on Post COVID condition.

Dr Van Kerkhove, says the  risk of developing post-COVID condition is dependent on the person’s risk of getting infected. Therefore, reducing the transmission is very important.

She added that this is why WHO is working with partners around the world to have a comprehensive strategy to reduce people’s exposure and the opportunities for one to get infected.

“We know that vaccination is incredibly protective against severe disease and death, but it also does prevent some infections and some onward transmission,” Dr Van Kerkhove.

Another strategy that she mentioned for reducing transmission is the public preventative measures such as “physical distancing, wearing well-fitted mask over the nose and mouth, avoiding crowded places, washing hands, working from home if you can, getting tested and making sure you seek appropriate care where needed.”

Dr Van Kerkhove also said that Omicron still remains a dangerous virus as people with underlying conditions, the unvaccinated as well as people with advanced age can have a severe form of COVID-19 following infection from the variant.

“People are still being hospitalized with this variant of concern, Omicron, as well as dying. And if you have underlying conditions or have an advanced age, if you’re not vaccinated, your risk is higher of developing severe disease,”she said.

She also clarified that despite Omicron’s high transmissibility nature following the high reported cases and surges around the world, not everyone might eventually get it.