Omicron and seasonal flu
The COVID-19 Omicron variant and common flu: Symptoms and treatment
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented increase in global infections. The first cases of Omicron in Armenia were registered on 8 January, 2022, spreading rapidly in the following days. Omicron is known to be more contagious than other COVID-19 variants; it largely infects the upper respiratory tract, making it easy to confuse the variant with seasonal flu.
We spoke with Karine Markosyan, a physician at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Medical Center, about the COVID-19 Omicron variant and seasonal flu.
Unlike other COVID-19 variants, Omicron has many mutations that can affect the way the infection behaves. As in the case of the Delta strain, Omicron is particularly dangerous for people at risk.
Dr. Karine Markosyan says Omicron’s symptoms begin on the second day of infection and usually include sore throat, headache, fatigue, sneezing, night sweats, and bone, joint, muscle, and back pain. Since symptoms and the timeline of their progression is quite similar to that of seasonal flu, it is often impossible to know whether a person is infected with Omicron or the flu without testing. Dr. Markosyan explains that one can assume they have contracted Omicron if they have been in contact with someone who is infected.
"Omicron infects the upper respiratory tract; the lung tissues are not as affected. The first symptoms are a sore throat, then a dry cough and fever, perspiration, weakness—all the symptoms typical of acute upper respiratory diseases. If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend that you be tested immediately, so that you can begin the treatment process on time. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to avoid complications.”
Dr. Markosyan notes that Omicron's target groups are mostly children, adolescents, and people over 60 who have underlying diseases. In the case of seasonal flu, children and young people are most at risk, because of crowded environments in kindergartens and schools. Adults with weakened immune systems and those who have underlying conditions are also considered high risk.
"In children, Omicron can lead to gastrointestinal illnesses with symptoms including high fever, diarrhea, and vomiting, which may cause dehydration. In the case of gastrointestinal illness, a doctor should be consulted, and a test should be administered immediately. Respiratory problems are less common in Omicron, though the infection can lead to bronchitis. Children are in the high-risk group, so if you notice that the child is tired, weak, and is having trouble breathing, consult a doctor immediately. In the case of seasonal flu, in addition to these symptoms, one may experience nausea or shortness of breath, in which case a specialist should be consulted.
The treatments for Omicron and seasonal flu are generally the same. If tests show the lungs are not affected in the patient infected with Omicron, they are prescribed plenty of fluids and fever-reducing medication.
"Proper ventilation of indoor spaces and making sure you are getting fresh air are also vital. If the child has a fever, you can administer baby ibuprofen or paracetamol. In the case of congestion, nasal drops and plenty of fluids can be helpful,” Dr. Markosyan says.
According to Dr. Marksoyan, the case for adults is a little different. “Omicron rarely affects lung tissue; instead, it affects the nervous system, which has led to an increase in strokes and mental disorders. Complications from Omicron usually arise due to a patient’s underlying conditions,” Dr. Markosyan says.
Antibiotics should not be taken to treat Omicron or seasonal flu, as they have no effect on these viruses. Antibiotics are used only when the patient is co-infected with a bacterial infection.
“It is important to monitor symptoms so that the virus does not make its way into the lower respiratory tract and infect the lungs. If breathing problems begin—shortness of breath, excessive sweating, weakness, wheezing during physical exertion—it means that the lungs are also damaged. In this situation, it is necessary to consult a doctor and not to self-medicate,” Dr. Markosyan says.
In the case that the lungs are infected, oxygen therapy is usually prescribed at the hospital. Other treatment can also be recommended after the patient is examined.
Though the effects of Omicron are still being studied, those who are infected with this strain, usually experience fatigue, mental weakness, low mood, drowsiness, and weakness.
Both in the case of Omicron and seasonal flu, it is imperative to follow public health guidelines. Most importantly, to be protected from infectious disease, it is necessary to be vaccinated.
"People should get vaccinated. Our research and experience prove that vaccines significantly protect against severe illness and death,” Dr. Markosyan explains.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government