Many COVID-19 patients infected with the omicron variant could be spreading the virus unintentionally.
A small study published in JAMA Network Open Wednesday revealed that more than half or around 56% of omicron patients could be spreading the virus without knowing it because they are also oblivious to their condition.
“In this cohort study of 210 adults with evidence of seroconversion during a regional omicron variant surge, 56% reported being unaware of any recent omicron variant infection,” the researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center wrote.
The team explained that some individuals infected with omicron could be completely unaware of their infectious status, so this could have led to more transmissions.
“Findings of this study suggest that low rates of omicron variant infection awareness may be a key contributor to [the] rapid transmission of the virus within communities,” the researchers noted.
For the study, the team analyzed data from adult employees and patients of the academic medical center, Cedars-Sinai, in Los Angeles County, California. The participants provided two blood samples for antibody testing — one before and another after the omicron surge.
It is worth noting that most of the participants were vaccinated. All 210 adults were asked to fill out health surveys describing their symptoms. They also had COVID-19 PCR testing to determine if they got infected during the study period.
Prior studies indicated that at least 25% and possibly as many as 80% of people with SARS-CoV-2 might not experience symptoms. Compared to other variants, omicron was found to cause less severe symptoms, especially in vaccinated individuals.
The most common symptoms of the omicron variant include fatigue, cough, runny nose, sore throat and headache. Because of this, some patients may brush their condition off as a simple cold or allergy.
“Our study findings add to evidence that undiagnosed infections can increase transmission of the virus. A low level of infection awareness has likely contributed to the fast spread of omicron,” the study’s first author and a researcher at Cedars-Sinai Sandy Y. Joung, MHDS, said in a media release.
“We hope people will read these findings and think, ‘I was just at a gathering where someone tested positive,’ or, ‘I just started to feel a little under the weather. Maybe I should get a quick test.’ The better we understand our own risks, the better we will be at protecting the health of the public as well as ourselves,” added corresponding author and director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Susan Cheng, MD, MPH.