Omicron’s shorter incubation period creates new challenges for medical community


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – We already know that omicron is much more contagious than the delta variant and the original form of COVID-19. But it’s becoming clearer as to why that is true.

The incubation period, the time between infection and becoming symptomatic, is much shorter than the five to seven days we’re used to seeing.

“With the omicron variant it appears to be about three days with fairly tight intervals meaning everyone who becomes symptomatic would become symptomatic within four days,” said Dr. David Weber with UNC Health.

While you may know sooner if you’ve been infected, it also means you’re contagious within a day or two after infection.

That also creates another challenge for the medical community. It only gives them about 24 hours to notify someone that they’ve also been exposed before that person infects someone else.

“If I present symptoms today, I have to get tested, get my test result back and have it informed to the public health department and they have to notify people the same day, otherwise you’re already past the point of when the secondary group could have already been exposed.

“This is really going to handicap our exposure evaluations, calling people to inform them about our exposures,” said Weber.

Why is the incubation period shorter for omicron?

Weber said the answer is not exactly clear.

But, one study showed omicron grows much quicker in the upper airways.

However, it also showed it does not grow as well in the lower airways.

“Which may account for the fact that one of the good news about omicron it seems to be less likely than the delta variant to cause severe disease,” Weber said.

Weber said those who are already vaccinated are showing a higher level of protection with a booster shot.

That doesn’t mean though that if you are vaccinated and showing symptoms that you shouldn’t get tested.

“If you have any symptoms that are suggestive of COVID (fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell and taste, sore throat) you should stay home and call your health provider and get tested for COVID,” Weber said.

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