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Can you be infected with Omicron after being fully vaccinated? All you need to know about the Covid variant

In a webinar organised by Apeejay Stya and Svran Group, Dr Parveen Bhatia talked about the symptoms, precautions, and treatment of Omicron

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Does Omicron only cause mild symptoms? Is it the same as the flu? Can vaccination protect you from the virus? Amid a surge in Covid-19 cases across the country, the Apeejay Stya and Svran Group invited Dr Parveen Bhatia, Robotic Bariatric Surgeon, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Bhatia Global Hospital and Endosurgery Institute, New Delhi, to address the issues in a live webinar titled ‘An Update on Omicron’. Dr Manju Purohit, Head, Medical Department, Walter Bushnell, Vikram Narang, General Manager, Sales and Marketing, Walter Bushnell and Sachin Kapoor, Deputy General Manager, HR, Walter Bushnell, were among the other panellists. The session was moderated by Anjana Nath, Chief People Officer, Apeejay Education Society.

The total tally of Omicron cases in the country is 8,209 of the 2.58 lakh new cases, as per the health ministry’s report on Monday. In the webinar,  after an introduction by Anjana Nath, Dr Bhatia busted myths surrounding Omicron, the precautions to take, and more.

What is the Omicron variant?

“In the case of Omicron, it was found that there was a mutation in the virus. It is the tendency of the virus to stay on and replicate,” Dr Bhatia said. Contrary to the popular conception that Omicron is only a mild variant, heralding the end of the pandemic, Dr Bhatia stressed that while the hospital admission rate has reduced, it is still a significant number. In the US, for instance, more than 95 per cent of the Covid cases were the result of Omicron, as per a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released earlier this month. Dr Bhatia stressed that if someone has comorbidities or is not fully vaccinated, he or she is more vulnerable to the Omicron variant and has the chance of developing “moderate to severe infection”. Globally, 76 per cent of Covid patients who died were obese, 13 per cent had diabetes while 13 per cent had hypertension, he added.

“So many institutes have been involved in finding more about Covid-19 virus and naming variants, but even after 2.5 years, we stand at the same place. The only thing certain till now is uncertainty,” Dr Bhatia emphasised. “In the first and second wave, we saw many patients having lung infections, mild, moderate to severe disease, and even deaths. In 1918, when the influenza epidemic hit, humans learned similar lessons. People started realising that it was spreading from human to human. This time, we have to remember that too. We have to follow the protocol.”

Can you contract Covid even after being fully vaccinated?

Being fully vaccinated does not mean you cannot contract the virus. If there are still some people who are hesitant to go for vaccination, they are more at risk. With vaccination, the antibodies will fight the virus and may dampen its effects, said Dr Bhatia. Vaccination will not reduce the chances of contracting the virus but it will lead to milder symptoms. The virus will not lodge itself into the lungs of the patient, he mentioned.

How to distinguish between symptoms of flu and Omicron

If someone has symptoms like fever with chills, sore throat, lethargy, malaise, they should get tested for Covid-19, Dr Bhatia advised. “Think it is Omicron until proven otherwise,” he said. “If you test positive, restrict yourself to paracetamol, isolate yourself and consult a doctor. It is also a good idea to be RT-PCR negative before stepping out and coming in contact with others.” He added that it is our moral responsibility to ensure we take enough precautions and do not spread the virus to others.  

How do I know which Covid variant has infected me?

RT-PCR only detects the viral load, not the variant. Hence, we cannot know, Dr Bhatia said, because the tests do not study the genomes. If your viral load is 25 and more, you have a milder load, but you are still positive. Even if you are vaccinated, you can contract the infection. The doctor further advised people to not mix their vaccine doses, whether it is Covaxin or Covishield. He said one should not go for a booster dose till at least three or four months after being infected.

Can you exercise if you have Covid?

If someone has symptoms, they will not be able to exercise. Dr Bhatia recommended getting back to working out only after complete recovery. Do not overexert, begin with simpler exercises and then increase the intensity gradually.

Should you have Molnupiravir if you are infected with Covid?

Molnupiravir is an antiviral drug developed by US companies Merck and Ridgeback. Originally developed to treat influenza, the drug is meant to treat Covid patients with mild to moderate infection. However, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has kept the drug out of its treatment protocol citing major safety concerns.

Dr Bhatia suggested one should not take molnupiravir without consulting a doctor. “In the last wave, people hoarded medicines. They were taking it without guidance and harming themselves. If you have comorbidities, consult your doctor as many times as required. In the second wave, there was a lot of stress on antiviral drugs. In the case of Omicron, it has been seen that there is no role of antiviral drugs. The only thing you can do for your benefit is vaccination. There is no need to look for steroids, antiviral drugs, etc.”

How to treat symptoms before getting your RT-PCR result

Even if you have the slightest doubt, quarantine yourself. If your temperature goes beyond 100 degrees, take paracetamol. The viral load will come down in three-four days. Once you have taken enough rest for five to seven days, then you can consider a re-test. If a family member tests positive, others present in the family should also get tested, especially elders. Besides, family members should be in isolation, advised Dr Bhatia.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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