Study: More than half of COVID patients infected with Omicron variant were unaware, researchers say

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Out of the 2,500 participants, 56% had no idea they were infected. Many with mild to no symptoms moved about their lives, unaware they had the potential to spread illness.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Omicron-specific boosters may soon be heading our way as local researchers discover just how stealth the variant can be.

This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces ambitious changes to help the agency respond better and faster to public health emergencies.

After a scathing internal review citing confusing mixed messaging during the pandemic, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky explained how she plans to overhaul the agency.

In an internal video to employees, Walensky signaled a change in how data is analyzed and communicated to the public.

She called for leadership changes and a sweeping cultural shift to help the CDC respond more quickly to future pathogens.

This comes as the White House announced new Omicron-specific boosters could be on the way in three weeks.

"The big-picture bottom-line is these are substantial upgrades in our vaccines in terms of their ability to prevent infection, to prevent transmission, certainly to prevent serious illness and death," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID-19 Coordinator

While regulators still need to sign off, the U.S. so far has secured 105 million doses from Pfizer and 66 million from Moderna. The boosters target the original COVID strain and the Omicron subvariant BA.5.

"They're likely to have value and really offer benefits to probably most people," said Dr. Susan Cheng, Director of the Institute for Research in Healthy Again with the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai.

Cheng weighed in on the revised boosters after she and her colleagues at the Smidt Heart Institute discovered more than half of the people in their study were infected with Omicron -- and didn't know it.

"Because it is probably the stealthiest form of the virus we have seen so far," she said.

Nine months ago, when Omicron started to emerge, researchers started surveying and routinely checking the antibody levels of nearly 2,500 study participants.

Out of the 2,500 participants, 56% had no idea they were infected. Many with mild-to-no symptoms moved about their lives, unaware they had the potential to spread illness.

"We're hoping people can increase a general level of awareness with respect to what this virus can do," Cheng said. "Because the potential to do harm is still there. Then, we all get a chance to get through this pandemic together sooner rather than later."