The South African doctor who first sounded the alarm on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus said that its symptoms are “unusual but mild” in healthy patients — but she’s worried the strain could cause complications in the elderly and unvaccinated.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a practicing doctor for 30 years who chairs the South African Medical Association (SAMA), said she believed she had found a new strain of the virus after COVID-19 patients at her private practice in Pretoria exhibited strange symptoms.
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee told The Telegraph.
She called South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee on Nov. 18 after a family of four all tested positive for the virus with symptoms that included extreme fatigue.
So far, she’s had two dozen patients who tested positive and showed symptoms of the new variant, mostly young men. About half of the patients were unvaccinated, she said. None of those infected lost their sense of smell or taste.
“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” Coetzee told the paper. “So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer the loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough. There are no prominent symptoms. Of those infected some are currently being treated at home.”
She described one “very interesting case” involving a 6-year-old girl.
She had “a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her. But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better,” she said.
Coetzee emphasized that all of her patients had been healthy, and expressed worry that elderly or unvaccinated patients could be hit by the omicron much harder –especially those with comorbidities such as diabetes or heart disease.
“What we have to worry about now is that when older, unvaccinated people are infected with the new variant, and if they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many people with a severe [form of the] disease,” she said.
The World Health Organization officially named the virus on Friday, skipping two letters of the Greek alphabet and choosing “Omicron.”
There have been no confirmed cases of the new variant in the United States yet, but officials believe it may already be here. Two cases have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, which joined the US and European Union in issuing travel restrictions.
On Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency and put a temporary halt on all elective surgeries in anticipation of hospitalizations.