Multiple new animal studies suggest that Omicron causes much less damage to lungs, is primarily an upper respiratory disease

News & Politics

A series of animal studies released in recent days regarding the Omicron variant all point to the same conclusion: that while Omicron is highly infectious, it is significantly less lethal than any previous variant of COVID-19 because it causes much less damage to the lungs, according to the New York Times.

The Times highlighted a study released Wednesday by a large group of American and Japanese researchers regarding the effects of the Omicron variant on mice. In the study, the mice demonstrated significantly less lung damage than mice infected with previous strains of COVID-19, lost less weight, and died with significantly less frequency.

The Times also pointed to a mouse study published Sunday by a team of researchers which found that “Strikingly, in hamsters that had been infected with the omicron variant, a 3log10 lower viral RNA load was detected in the lungs as compared to animals infected with D614G and no infectious virus was detectable in this organ.”

Another study published Thursday by a different set of researchers also found that rodents “infected with the Omicron variant had less severe clinical signs (weight loss), showed recovery and had a lower virus load in both the lower and upper respiratory tract. This is also reflected by less extensive inflammatory processes in the lungs” than what was observed in previous COVID-19 variants. A fourth study published Sunday regarding Syrian hamsters reached a similar conclusion.

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Roland Eils, a computational biologist at the Berlin Institute of Health, told the Times that “It’s fair to say that the idea of a disease that manifests itself primarily in the upper respiratory system is emerging.”

This data on animal tests tracks with data from South Africa, where local health officials have announced that they are past their Omicron peak, and have not experienced significant load on their hospital system.

Still, local health officials in the United States caution that, while evidence continues to mount that Omicron is less dangerous per each individual case, the rate at which it spreads could cause strain on the health care system if positive cases continue to climb.

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