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'Stealth omicron' is now in North Texas. Is it a new COVID variant? What we know

by Tribune News Service | January 27, 2022 at 10:00 p.m.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center say there are at least three cases of a new form of omicron, "stealth omicron," in North Texas.

Texas is one of a few states where stealth omicron has been detected. Along with the cases in North Texas, three cases have been identified in Houston.

Stealth omicron cases have been found in 40 countries. In the U.S., there are about 100 cases.

What is stealth omicron, a new COVID variant?

Stealth omicron is a subvariant of omicron.

Why is it called stealth omicron? You cannot identify the type of variant through a PCR test like you can with omicron. Genomic sequencing has to be conducted in a specialized lab to identify the variant, which takes longer.

In Denmark, where stealth omicron cases are rapidly increasing, it went from 20% of cases in December, to 45% of cases two weeks ago, and now it's about 65% of cases.

"It's moving fast, it's taking over the landscape," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease specialist at University of California San Francisco.

How different is "stealth" from omicron?

So far, Chin-Hong said, it doesn't seem to get people sicker than omicron does.

The symptoms of omicron and stealth omicron are identical. That means you likely won't have loss of taste and smell, shortness of breath or lung damage.

Early studies in Denmark indicate stealth omicron doesn't create a higher risk of hospitalization compared with omicron.

"If you're vaccinated, we don't think it will send you to the hospital more than the regular omicron would," Chin-Hong said.

Is stealth omicron more contagious?

It might be. Denmark recently found that stealth omicron is as much as 1.5 times more transmissible than omicron.

Much is still unknown about stealth omicron. We don't know whether stealth omicron will cause another surge just as omicron declines. We also don't know whether it's going to cause people that had omicron to get reinfected with the subvariant.

"It's not impossible to think that people who got omicron could get this again as another infection, but the chances are lower if you've had recent infection," Chin-Hong said.

Should you be worried?

Getting vaccinated and boosted will continue to protect you against getting severe disease from this subvariant and potential others.

"People shouldn't be distraught or dismayed or panicked about it," Chin-Hong said.


©2022 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Print Headline: 'Stealth omicron' is now in North Texas. Is it a new COVID variant? What we know


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