WHO: Don't try to catch Omicron deliberately - it can be 'dangerous' not 'mild'




  • In Science
  • 2022-01-12 16:34:22Z
  • By Business Insider
COVID hospitalizations
COVID hospitalizations  
  • A global health leader has warned against trying to catch Omicron deliberately.

  • "That is very unsafe", Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical COVID-19 lead, said.

  • People could die, spread the virus to others and we don't know the long-term effects, she said.

Experts have warned against trying to catch Omicron at so-called COVID-19 parties following reports of people attempting to deliberately contract the disease.

"I've heard some very scary stories about parties of people and trying to get infected. That is very unsafe," Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical COVID-19 lead at the World Health Organization, said in a briefing Tuesday.

Reports have emerged from around the world of people trying to catch the virus for reasons including obtaining natural immunity or to obtain health certificates without having to get a vaccine. Others have reportedly tried to catch the virus in an attempt to avoid disruption to future events. Switzerland made so-called COVID-19 parties illegal, local news reported on December 23.

Experts warned against the perception that the dominant Omicron variant results in milder disease as a reason for people to think it is safe to try to get themselves infected.

Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told CNN that intentionally getting COVID-19 had caught on "like wildfire".

"And it's widespread, coming from all types of people, the vaccinated and boosted and the anti-vaxxers," he said Tuesday. "You'd be crazy to try to get infected with this. It's like playing with dynamite," he added.

Experts in the US have also cautioned against COVID-19 parties for kids, similar to chickenpox parties. Dr. Dean A. Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children's Hospital, said Friday: "You're basically rolling the dice and hoping your child doesn't have one of these severe outcomes," per the LA Times.

Van Kerkhove, of the WHO, said that Omicron tended to cause less severe illness than Delta, but it wasn't a mild disease, and that the chance of getting sick from Omicron was "real".

"If you have underlying conditions, are of an older age, if you've not received a vaccination, you could die," she said. "You can also pass the virus to someone else that is more vulnerable," she added.

According to the most recent WHO report, as of Sunday more than 15 million new COVID-19 cases were recorded worldwide in the past week, a 55% increase from one week before. Over the same period, 43,000 deaths were recorded.

Omicron is now the most common cause of new infections globally. It was picked up on almost 60% of sequenced tests in the past 30 days, whilst Delta accounted for about 41% of sequenced tests, the report showed.

Van Kerkhove said that scientists are still learning about the new variant - it replicates in the upper part of the respiratory system, unlike the Delta variant where it replicates in the lungs. The long-term implications of that are still unknown, she added.

"Not to scare anybody, but the narrative that it's a common cold is not true. The narrative that it is 'just mild' is not true," she said.

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