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Omicron is much more deadly than the seasonal flu

New research presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) suggests that adults hospitalized with the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant have a higher death rate than those hospitalized with seasonal influenza. This is despite the fact that Omicron is considered less virulent with lower case fatality rates than the delta and alpha strains.

The study, conducted by Dr Alaa Atamna and colleagues from the Rabin Medical Center at Belinison Hospital in Israel, compared the clinical outcomes of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 (Omicron variant) and those hospitalized with influenza at a large academic hospital in Israel. 

The experts found that adults (18 years or older) hospitalized with influenza were 55 percent less likely to die within 30 days than those hospitalized with Omicron during the 2021-2022 influenza season.

The research included 167 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and 221 patients hospitalized with influenza infection during December 2021 and January 2022. Overall, 63 patients died within 30 days – 19 (9%) admitted with influenza and 44 (26%) hospitalized with Omicron.

Patients with Omicron tended to have higher overall comorbidity scores, needed more assistance performing activities of daily living, and were more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, whereas asthma was more common in those hospitalized with influenza. Respiratory complications and the need for oxygen support and mechanical ventilation were also more common in Omicron cases than in seasonal influenza.

According to Dr. Atamna, one possible reason for the higher Omicron death rate is that patients admitted with Omicron were older with additional major underlying illnesses such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease. “The difference might also be due to an exaggerated immune response in COVID-19, and that vaccination against COVID-19 was far lower among patients with Omicron.”

Dr. Atamna warns that the double whammy of overlapping influenza and COVID-19 epidemics will increase the complexity of disease and the burden on health systems. He urges people to take a basic step that may alter the trajectory of either epidemic, which is to get vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19, especially if they are older and have underlying illnesses.

The study was observational and cannot prove causation. It was conducted in one hospital in Israel, so the results may not apply to other countries and populations. 

The authors also note that the excess mortality observed for Omicron could be the result of an influenza season that was less severe than usual. Finally, the study included only hospitalized patients, so it could not estimate the proportion of hospitalized patients in the total number of infected patients.

In conclusion, this research highlights the importance of vaccination against both flu and COVID-19, especially for older individuals and those with underlying health conditions. While the study was conducted in one hospital in Israel and the results may not apply to other countries and populations, it provides valuable insight into the clinical outcomes of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and influenza. 

As the world continues to grapple with these overlapping epidemics, it is crucial to take steps to protect ourselves and others.

What is Omicron

The Omicron virus is a strain of the coronavirus that was first identified in South Africa in November 2021. It is a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The Omicron variant has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its high number of mutations and the potential for increased transmissibility and reduced effectiveness of current vaccines and treatments.

One of the main differences between the Omicron virus and COVID-19 is the number of mutations in their genetic codes. The Omicron virus has a large number of mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells, making it more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus. The mutations in the Omicron virus also appear to have the potential to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments developed for earlier variants.

Another difference is that the symptoms of COVID-19 and the Omicron virus may be slightly different. Preliminary reports suggest that people infected with the Omicron variant may experience milder symptoms than those infected with earlier variants. However, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of the Omicron virus on the severity of illness.

It is important to note that while the Omicron variant is a new and concerning development in the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and getting vaccinated.


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