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Omicron symptoms mirror the flu and common cold. What should I do if I feel sick? – The Globe and Mail

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Barb Richard spent two weeks in March 2020 in self-isolation in Toronto in an effort to do her part to plank the curve of COVID-19 infections. Now that the Omicron variant is coursing through Canada, many more people are having to self-isolate at home.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

In Canada, the seven-day rolling average of confirmed COVID-19 cases is up 107 per cent from the previous period, as the Omicron variant surges through the country ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Preliminary data say that Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, and spreading fast wherever it goes. Less hindered by vaccines, COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant can also spread more easily through a vaccinated population than other variants, as The Globe’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk reports.

Its transmissibility, rising case counts, and varied or inconsistent access to testing help fuel the spread of COVID-19. Staying home unless you are confident you don’t have the virus offers the best way to protect others and limit its spread.


Are my symptoms COVID-19, the flu or a cold?

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of the flu, so Health Canada says anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should follow the same precautions for COVID-19. Some symptoms of the common cold are similar to those of COVID-19, and the flu.

Initial reports out of South Africa of the Omicron variant show newer symptoms, including scratchy throat, mild muscle aches, extreme tiredness, dry cough and night sweats. But these have not been identified in any cases by Canadian authorities.

Dr. Matthew Miller, an associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton and one of the researchers behind the university’s inhaled COVID-19 vaccine, says that there isn’t any clear evidence yet that the Omicron variant symptoms are significantly different from any of the other variants. “Any changes that we’re seeing relative to earlier cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic are more likely a function of whether or not people have underlying immunity,” Dr. Miller says. “That can change the symptom profile. The data is showing that individuals who are vaccinated tend to be experiencing milder illness.”

COVID-19 symptoms Influenza symptoms Common cold
New or worsening cough Cough Hacking cough
Chills Chills Chills
Fatigue or weakness Fatigue (tiredness) Runny nose
Muscle or body aches Muscle aches and pain Muscle aches
Headache Headache Headache
Temperature equal to or more than 38°C Fever Sneezing
Feeling feverish Diarrhea Red, watering eyes
Abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting Nausea and vomiting Sore throat
New loss of smell or taste Loss of appetite
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing Sore throat
Feeling very unwell Runny or stuffy nose

Health Canada; Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety


Could I have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?

Denys Khaperskyy, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says from a virologist’s point of view, there’s no technical reason this would be impossible, but it’s unlikely that it would happen.


Is my COVID-19 test accurate?

The accuracy of your COVID-19 test depends on a variety of factors, including when you are taking the test in relation to when you came in contact with COVID-19. Rapid tests provide a correct result between 50 to 95 per cent of the time. The variability in accuracy means individuals can test negative while being actively infected. This is called a false negative.

A PCR test, or polymerase chain reaction test, is a lab-based method that uses a deep nasal swab to determine if the coronavirus is present. It provides accurate results about 98 per cent of the time. Getting results back usually takes about 24 hours and can take longer as demand increases, as the test must be performed by trained technicians.

Some health units, like Ottawa Public Health, are still recommending people isolate after a negative rapid test if they have symptoms. In a letter to Ottawa Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Travel and Walk-In Clinics, Ottawa Public Health said: “Symptomatic individuals must self-isolate even if they test negative on a rapid antigen test as these tests can produce false negative results.”


When should I use rapid tests?

For individuals who aren’t symptomatic or haven’t been in close contact with a confirmed positive case, rapid tests are a good screening tool, according to Dr. Miller. “The caveat is that you want to perform a couple tests a few days apart because sometimes very early after exposure, there’s not enough virus present for rapid tests to capture it,” he says. And if you plan on using rapid tests ahead of a small gathering, Dr. Miller says it’s also critical to do a test the day of the event.

Although rapid tests aren’t as sensitive as PCR test results, Dr. Miller says they’re still a good addition to your tool kit. “People can have rapid test negative outcomes and still test PCR positive, so it’s not perfect. But the good thing about rapid tests is that they directly look for virus, whereas PCR tests look for fragments of the virus, which can sometimes persist in individuals long after they’re infectious.”


What should I do if I have symptoms, test positive, or am a close contact of someone who tests positive?

Across Canada, isolation and testing guidelines vary based on testing supply, severity of outbreak, health care system capacities and government policy. When in doubt, isolate until you can confirm you’re not carrying COVID-19. And don’t forget to take note of the date you first experience symptoms and the date of any tests. This will help you calculate how long you need to isolate for.

According to Dr. Miller, adhering to self-isolating guidelines has never been more important than at this current moment in the pandemic. “It’s the time of year when we’re used to gathering, so it’s tough to have the discipline to self-isolate,” says Dr. Miller. “But one could argue it’s never been more important in terms of trying to stem the rising tide of transmission.”

The rapid spike in cases over such a short period of time will challenge our hospital capacity, Dr. Miller says, so it’s critical that individuals self-isolate to avoid passing the virus on to more people.

If you need to self-isolate but live with other people, Dr. Miller says the ideal scenario is to limit your movements to a single floor, like a basement, or room, and use your own dedicated bathroom. If you need to share a bathroom, open windows and turn on the bathroom fan. “The virus is clearly airborne, so allow for good ventilation between the next person using the restroom,” he says. “It also doesn’t hurt to have Lysol wipes or bathroom spray on hand to wipe down high-touch surfaces like toilet handles and faucets, but air exchange is really key.”

Alberta

If you have symptoms: Alberta lists a set of “core symptoms,” including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat and loss of taste or smell for adults over 18. If you have any of these symptoms you need to get tested and isolate for at least 10 days from the start of symptoms, unless you receive a negative test result.

If you tested positive: You must isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of symptoms. If your symptoms persist after 10 days, you need to continue isolating until they resolve.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: Book a COVID-19 test right away, and if symptoms develop, isolate. Strong recommendation that people who are not vaccinated stay home for at least 14 days.

British Columbia

If you have symptoms: Start self-isolation right away at the onset of COVID-19 symptoms and use the B.C. COVID-19 self-assessment tool to see if you need to be tested.

If you test positive: Self isolate at home for at least 10 days since the start of your symptoms.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: Self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 and get tested if you develop any COVID-19 symptoms.

Manitoba

If you have symptoms: Manitoba has two classifications of symptoms, and whether to self-isolate depends on how many and which symptoms you have. Use the COVID-19 screening tool for directions. People with symptoms not known to be exposed to COVID-19 can return to normal activities with a negative test, no fever and symptoms improving for 24 hours. People who have symptoms and were in contact with a known COVID-19 case must continue to isolate for 10 days, even after receiving a negative test result.

If you test positive: You must isolate for at least 10 days or until symptoms are improving.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: The province of Manitoba will no longer be contacting people who have come in contact with a positive case, ahead of anticipated surges in Omicron cases. Public Health is asking positive cases to notify their close contacts of their positive case. Most close contacts need to self-isolate after coming in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

New Brunswick

If you have symptoms: New Brunswickers can use the self-assessment tool to sign up for a test. People with two or more symptoms must isolate while waiting for their test result.

If you test positive: You must isolate. New Brunswick Public Health will provide direction on isolation length.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: Vaccinated household contacts must self-isolate until receiving a negative PCR test five days after initial exposure. If negative, they no longer need to isolate, but require a second test on the 10th day. Close contacts must isolate and get a COVID-19 test. Close contacts without symptoms who are not fully vaccinated should pick up an at-home COVID-19 Rapid Point of Care Test, and do not need to isolate unless instructed by Public Health to do so. Fully vaccinated people should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, and get tested immediately if any develop.

Newfoundland and Labrador

If you have symptoms: Stay home, self-isolate immediately and complete the COVID-19 self-assessment tool.

If you test positive: You will get a call from Public Health telling you what to do next. Do not visit your family doctor’s office and only go to your Emergency Department if it is an emergency.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: Individuals who are identified as close contacts of a positive case are notified by Public Health. Contacts often require testing and/or to self-isolate.

Northwest Territories

If you have symptoms: Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of travel and vaccination status, should isolate immediately and arrange for testing.

If you test positive: Your health care provider will contact you with your results. If you test positive for COVID-19, they will advise on what to do. For most, this means isolating at home. The NWT Office of the Chief Public Officer is also advising those who test positive to stay close to community centres while isolating, in case access to health care services is required.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: A health care provider will contact you and give you instructions on what you need to do next.

Nova Scotia

If you have symptoms: If in the past 48 hours you’ve had or you currently have a new or worsening cough or two of the following symptoms – fever, headache, runny nose or nasal congestion, sore throat, shortness of breath – you need to self-isolate and complete a COVID-19 self-assessment.

If you test positive: A positive test result on a rapid antigen test no longer requires verification with a PCR test. If you take a PCR test and it is positive, Public Health will call you. Self-isolate right away, and ask your household contacts to self-isolate right away, too. You will need to self-isolate until you’re no longer considered infectious, which is typically 10 days after symptoms have started and you are feeling better. For individuals who are immunocompromised or have severe disease, this period can be longer. Nova Scotia is currently experiencing a backlog in contact tracing, so all positive cases must reach out to their close contacts.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: If you are fully vaccinated, self-isolate immediately regardless of whether you have any symptoms. Then book a PCR lab test at least 72 hours after the last exposure and continue to self-isolate until you receive a negative test result. If you are not fully vaccinated, self-isolate immediately and book a PCR test. You will need to complete a second PCR test six or seven days after the last exposure. If the second test is negative and you have no symptoms, you can stop isolating.

Nunavut

If you have symptoms: Self-isolate and follow up with your health care professional. If you develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing in the next 14 days, call your health care provider or local public health authority.

If you test positive: Stay at home until the public health authority advises that you are no longer at risk of spreading the virus to others.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: You will be contacted by your health centre and notified of what steps you need to take.

Ontario

If you have symptoms: Get tested at a COVID-19 assessment centre, and stay home and self-isolate. Contact those with whom you were in close physical contact (less than two metres away in the same room, workspace or area) in the 48 hours before your symptoms began so that they can monitor their health and to self-isolate.

If you test positive: If you have symptoms, self-isolate for 10 days after your symptoms first started. After 10 days, you can stop self-isolating if your fever has stopped on its own and your symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours. If you do not have symptoms, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the day after you were tested.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: If you are fully vaccinated and have symptoms, you should self-isolate and get tested right away. If your test is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 days. If it’s negative, you can stop self-isolating once symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours. If you are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms, you are likely not required to self-isolate but should get tested.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you should self-isolate and get tested right away. If your test is negative, you are recommended to retest seven days later. If your household members are fully vaccinated, they don’t need to self-isolate. If they are not, they should also self-isolate and get tested.

Prince Edward Island

If you have symptoms: PEI urges anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested for the virus and self-isolate until the results come back. Results should be available online within 72 hours of getting tested.

If you test positive: The province uses a PCR test to determine if you are positive for COVID-19, which can also see if someone is infected with a variant. If the test is positive, the province’s Chief Public Health Officer will be in contact with your directly, and you must self-isolate and follow public health advice.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: You must self-isolate and follow public health advice.

Quebec

If you have symptoms: If you have symptoms, you must self-isolate immediately and complete the COVID-19 self-assessment.

If you test positive: Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to self-isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or from the date of a COVID-19 test if they do not have symptoms. For self-isolation to end, individuals must not have had a fever for 48 hours without taking medication and have improvement in symptoms for at least 24 hours.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: The province defines close contact as being within less two metres of a confirmed positive case for at least 15 minutes. Close contacts must self-isolate. For those who are not “adequately protected against COVID-19,″ a close contact must self-isolate 10 days after the last contact with a COVID-positive person. Those who are “adequately protected” do not need to self-isolate, but should monitor their symptoms for 14 days and get tested between day three and five after exposure.

Saskatchewan

If you have symptoms: Even if you have the mildest symptoms, the province recommends you get tested.

If you test positive: Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate for 10 days after receiving a positive test result.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: Saskatchewan’s public health say it lacks capacity to notify all close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case. If you are not fully vaccinated, get tested and self-isolate for at least 14 days from the date of last exposure. If you are fully vaccinated, call 811 if COVID-19 symptoms develop. You do not need to self-isolate unless symptomatic. All contacts who develop symptoms should seek testing immediately.

Yukon

If you have symptoms: Self-isolate, and then do a self-assessment test. Also contact your health care provider or local health centre and follow the advice provided.

If you test positive: Continue to self-isolate. A nurse from Yukon Communicable Disease Control (YCDC) will call you within 48 hours. Most people will need to self-isolate for 10 days, but some people may need to isolate longer.

If you are a close contact of a COVID-19 case: If you’re fully vaccinated, self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the date of your last exposure to the person with whom you’ve been in contact. If you start developing symptoms, self-isolate and arrange to get tested. If you’re not fully vaccinated, self-isolate for 10 days after the date of your last exposure and then self-monitor for symptoms for an additional four days. If you develop any symptoms, no matter how mild, arrange to get tested.

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Omicron-specific vaccine likely to come too late to help in this wave: Sharma – Victoria News

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Health Canada’s chief medical adviser says variant-specific vaccines can be approved faster than the general ones first issued to combat COVID-19, but one targeting the Omicron strain still likely won’t be ready in time to help with the latest wave.

Dr. Supriya Sharma said what is really needed are vaccines that can possibly stop more than one variant at a time, including those yet to come.

Omicron became the dominant variant in Canada in just over two weeks, and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday it’s now believed to be responsible for more than 90 per cent of all COVID-19 cases.

Studies suggest two doses of the existing mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are not good at preventing infection from Omicron.

Multiple studies, however, suggest the vaccines are excellent at keeping symptoms mild, preventing hospitalizations, and shortening the stay and lowering the level of care for those who do get admitted to hospital. Fewer vaccinated Omicron patients, for example, need mechanical ventilation.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on new versions of their vaccines that specifically target the Omicron variant.

Moderna is hoping to get its product into trials early this year. Pfizer said it could have 100 million doses of theirs ready as early as March, and Canada has contracts for boosters from both companies that would include vaccines for variants too.

But Sharma said even with the expedited review process for vaccine variants, that’s “probably not” fast enough.

“By that time, based on what we’ve known about the Omicron wave, it might well and truly be through,” she said. “And then the question is always, ‘is there another variant that’s coming up?’”

The solution, she said, likely lies with vaccines that can target more than one variant at a time.

READ MORE: Omicron may seem unavoidable, but experts say ‘let it rip’ isn’t the solution

The COVID-19 vaccine technical committee of the World Health Organization said the same thing on Jan. 11, noting Omicron is the fifth variant of concern in two years and “is unlikely to be the last.”

Booster shots that heighten antibody development became the immediate response to Omicron for many governments, including Canada.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a British Columbia pediatrician and co-chair of the WHO’s clinical research committee on COVID-19, told The Canadian Press that boosters aren’t a long-term viable option.

“Boosting your way out of a pandemic is going to inevitably shoot you in the foot in the sense that you’re going to have a future variant that’s going to emerge that’s going to cause problems,” he said. “It’s going to evade your vaccines, and then you’re going to have to scramble.”

Omicron doesn’t evade the existing vaccines entirely but a future variant could, he said. The issue largely stems from the fact that the original vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize what is called the spike protein found on the surface of a virus, and that spike protein is mutating significantly.

Think of the mutated spike protein as a bit of a disguise that makes it harder for the immune system to recognize the virus and mount a defence to kill it off.

Omicron has more than 50 mutations, and at least 36 are on the spike protein.

Multivalent vaccines that use the spike protein from more than one variant, or that target the genetic components of a virus rather than the spike protein, are possibly the ones that could offer protection for both this pandemic and the next novel coronavirus that emerges.

“It’s pan-coronavirus, where it’s looking at big broad neutralizing responses and you don’t have to update it every season and so on,” said Murthy. “That’s been the Holy Grail of flu vaccinology for the past number of decades. We haven’t achieved that yet, because flu is a bit tricky, but we think that it’s achievable for coronavirus, specifically.”

The United States Army has a version heading into Phase 2 trials that can attach multiple spike proteins. A vaccine with the specific spike proteins from all five COVID-19 variants of concern would likely be more successful, even against future variants, because they all share some of the same mutations and what one might miss another may catch.

Moderna is working on trials for multivalent vaccines using combinations of the spike proteins from the original virus and one of the variants, or two of the variants together. It’s not clear when they would be ready for use.

Sharma said even if the vaccines aren’t working as well against variants as they were against the original virus, to her “they’re still miraculous.”

“To have a vaccine that was developed that quickly, that still has, through multiple variants … with boosters, up to 70, 80 per cent effectiveness against serious disease, ailments, hospitalization and death,” she said. “That is miraculous for a new vaccine for a new virus.”

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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Canada approves Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, seeks supplies

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Canada on Monday approved Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in people aged 18 and older but said supply shortages would keep doses from being made available immediately.

Infections and hospitalizations due the Omicron variant have been rising in Canada, forcing provinces to put in restrictions and the federal government to support impacted businesses.

“(This) is particularly important, as access to easy to use treatments could help to reduce the severity of COVID-19 in adults who become newly infected at high risk of progressing to serious illness,” said chief public health officer Theresa Tam.

Pfizer’s two-drug antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company’s clinical trial.

It is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms.

Ottawa said last month it had signed a deal with Pfizer for a million treatment courses, pending approval. But getting those supplies could face hurdles.

“While there is currently limited global supply of Paxlovid, we are working to firm up a delivery schedule with the intent of bringing treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” Tam told a briefing.

Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, is seeing signs that Omicron cases may have peaked, said chief medical officer Kieran Moore.

“I’m starting to have much more hope … the number of cases is decelerating instead of accelerating in terms of hospitalizations and (people admitted to) intensive care units,” he told an Ottawa radio station.

Official data show that as of Jan 8, 87.8% of Canadians aged 12 and above had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. authorized the Pfizer treatment for people ages 12 and older last month.

Canada is still looking at whether to approve Merck & Co’s oral antiviral pill, molnupiravir, which had less impressive results than Paxlovid in its pivotal clinical trial.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

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January 16, 2022 coronavirus update for Oakville – Oakville News

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This is Oakville’s coronavirus update for Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. As children head back to school tomorrow, the main takeaway from today’s COVID-19 update is the increase in the number of outbreaks in long-term care, retirement, and hospital facilities. OTMH is now dealing with two outbreaks as a new one was declared at 5 South, and the province has 231 hospitals recording ongoing outbreaks, an increase nice.

Hospital status

A new outbreak at OTMH was declared but not shown on the region’s update of Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Halton does not provide new information on weekends or holidays. 

  • Oakville – 70 patients – plus 6
  • Halton – 126 patients – plus 10
  • Ontario – 3,595 patients – minus 362 (ICU 563 plus 19, Ventilators 327 plus 19)

Outbreaks

There are currently nine active outbreaks with 58 cases (LTC-41, retirement homes-13, hospitals-2) in Oakville. 

Ontario

Long-term care facilities status

  • 424 ongoing outbreaks -plus 9
  • 27,391 cases – plus 320
  • 39,06 resident deaths – plus 9

Retirement homes

  • 319 ongoing outbreaks – plus 16

Hospitals

  • 231 ongoing outbreaks – plus 16

Vaccination status

Halton 

  • 1st Dose (5+) – 90%
  • 2nd Dose (5+) – 83%
  • Boosters (18+) – 48%

Ontario administered 117,300 vaccinations

  • 1st Dose (5+) – 82%
  • 2nd Dose (5+) – 3%

Case status

The number of confirmed new cases in Oakville, Halton and Ontario is under-reported since the province restricted access to testing, limiting it to high-risk individuals, healthcare providers, and patients. 

Halton

  • 36,184 cases – plus 552 or 5,962.2 cases per million
  • 634.6 new weekly cases per 100,000, down 15.9 per cent from 2 weeks ago

Ontario

  • 948,086 total cases – plus 10,450 or 6,434.7 cases per million
  • 503.1 new weekly cases per 100,000, down 22.4 per cent from 2 weeks ago
  • 843,073 recoveries –  plus 15,317
  • 10,605 deaths – plus 40
  • 94,408 active cases – minus 4,907

**Vaccine booking: Halton continues to book first and second-dose vaccinations for all residents age five and older, plus third-dose boosters for all adults age 18 and up.

Parents must make booster doses and appointments for children in advance, but first and second doses for those 12 and up are available on a walk-in basis.

All vaccines approved for use in Canada effectively protect you against COVID-19 and all known variants of concern.

CLICK HERE to book a first, second or third vaccination appointment at a Halton Region vaccine clinic

The evidence is clear: vaccination is the best way to be protected. Local, provincial, national and international health units all affirm the same data that Canada’s approved vaccines effectively protect you from COVID-19 and significantly reduce your risks of getting sick, going to the hospital, and dying from the disease.

Pictured right is a graph from the Halton region showing how dramatically your risk of getting sick or being admitted to hospital is when vaccinated.

Sources: 

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