- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A new study finds that more than half of Los Angeles County residents recently infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 were unaware of it, suggesting the virus is spreading faster as it weakens.

The study of 210 adults infected between Dec. 15 and May 4 was published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open. It found that 56% of those infected did not know they had COVID, with health care workers being more likely to know.

Lead researcher Dr. Susan Cheng, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said those who didn’t know they had COVID had no symptoms or mild symptoms that they “attributed to another cause like the common cold.”

“If awareness remains low or falls lower, COVID transmission will persist for longer. And the longer this persists, the more chances there are for people to get sick and for more variants to emerge,” Dr. Cheng said in an email.

That’s a concern because adults with compromised immune systems can still “get very sick” and be hospitalized if they catch COVID from an unwitting family member or friend, she said.

The physician noted that “up to 10 to 15% of previously fully vaccinated people can still land in the hospital with omicron” even without underlying conditions like heart disease.

Some specialists echoed the study’s warning.

“A cough on the plane by a passenger not wearing a mask may have all the symptoms of Omicron needed to infect others, depending on the duration of the flight,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist who teaches at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the study also confirms that “general population immunity” has made omicron infections “much less severe.”

“Unless another new variant of concern appears, the focus should continue to be on the prevention of hospitalizations,” Dr. Schaffner said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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