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Omicron Sar-Cov2 versus Influenza

When the world started to regroup and gather together, as the number of COVID cases dropped, in late November 2021, there was news about the new Omicron variant first reported in South Africa that this variant has been shown severely contagious. 

At the start of the COVID province-wide lockdown on March 23, 2020 (right after the march break), there were about 78 new cases that day. That lockdown included dental offices as we were not allowed to do elective dental treatments like fillings, cleaning, implants, examinations etc. We were only allowed to treat dental emergency cases for severe toothache or painful dental infection with swelling. At that time, we were encouraged to do teledentistry to triage the patients and prescribed pain killers or antibiotics over the phone. For those severe cases, we were only providing emergency root canals, extractions or some palliative dental procedures like smoothing the sharp edges of a broken tooth and rebonding the loose orthodontic wires etc. Eventually, on May 27, 2020, the province announced that chiropractors, dentists, massage therapists, optometrists, homeopaths and psychologists could see patients under their respective governing bodies’ guidelines and strict IPAC protocol, especially for COVID.  

As the provinces continued reopening in different stages, the number of cases had spiked at 3945 on January 9, 2021, and 4812 on April 15, 2021. The number of cases died down during the spring and summer to as low as 119 cases on July 15, 2021. The Omicron made the peak at 4383 new cases on December 22, 2021, but then it peaks further on December 24, 2021, at 9,571 new cases in Ontario. The day before, on December 23, it was at 5,790. December 24, we had 10,412 cases, and today, January 6, 2022, we have 13,3339 cases. It epitomizes the super contagiousness of the disease. 

The numbers are truly sensational! However, it could be very deceiving to look at the daily numbers for just a few days. There could be unusual events preceding the upticks, reporting bias, overreporting, and “diagnostic bias.” Fortunately, the symptoms of this new variant are generally less severe, and the hospitalization strictly due to COVID has not shot up proportionally. The number of deaths due to the disease remains low. 

Meanwhile, after hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on December 15, 2021, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on December 21, 2021, in South Africa and continue to fall to 12,978 cases on December 30, 2021. This downtrend appears to continue to the future.

So will Ontario or Canada see a downtrend soon like what we see in South Africa? According to epidemiology, it is possible to see a steep increase followed by an abrupt decrease. This trend may be happening in Ontario; we had a peak on January 4, 2022, at 18,828 cases, and in the last few days, the numbers have been down to about 13,500 a day.

We are familiar with the Novel Covid as it first started and the two variants, namely Delta and Omicron, that have gained a lot of publicity. Indeed, a few more variants are less famous than their relatives. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Mu, R.1, Epsilon, Theta and Zeta variants. There likely will be more in the future.

Compared to flu viruses, COVID viruses can spread further because the consensus among scientists and doctors is that transmission of COVID-19 is primarily airborne, while the flu is via droplets. That means that COVID viruses can travel further in the air.

Why is this Omicron so much more contagious than other COVID variants? Scientists are still working on the reasons for the Omicron’s fast transmissibility; one of the theories is that this variant can evade our immune system effectively once it enters our bodies.

The findings are that the Omicron is milder in its symptoms than the Delta. The most common symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Scratchy throat.
  • Night sweats.

Other symptoms may also include:

  • Runny nose.
  • Headache.
  • Sneezing.
  • Sore throat.

The symptoms are generally milder than the other COVID variants, But one symptom appears to stand out above others — scratchy throats.

Traditional COVID has the following symptoms:

  • Fever or chills.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Sore throat.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

Indeed, the traditional COVID symptoms are very similar to Influenza. Both can lead to death and complications, including long-term damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs, and a variety of long-lasting symptoms is possible. At present, the mortality rate of COVID is thought to be substantially higher (possibly ten times or more) than that of most strains of the flu. Fortunately, the mortality and morbidity of this new Omicron are somewhat below the flu viruses. Because of the lesser symptoms, some scientists and medical experts are optimistic that this variant may help end the COVID pandemic sooner than later by improving the herb immunity after contracting and recovering from Omicron. Despite the large number of people getting COVID, we are not “in the same place as we were last year.” Dr. Theresa Tam told CTV National News during a year-end interview.

The  Omicron is causing an “enormous” number of COVID infections, but severe illness is not rising at the same pace.

There may also be a shift to the conventional vaccine using an inactivated piece of the COVID virus to stimulate our bodies’ immune systems against the virus. The mRNA vaccines as the immunity do not last long. 

How is it going to affect my practice? According to the guidelines, we practice infection prevention and control protocols (see the blogs on this topic before): frequent surface disinfection, continuous HEPA air filtering and UV light air disinfection, barrier and doors between different areas, social distancing, new PPE between patients, vaccination and frequent rapid testing. Etc. We make sure our patients and staff are safe when they are here in my dental practice. Let us ride this out together and continue to enjoy total health.