Covid Omicron is spreading fast, how long can an infected person transmit the virus to others?

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The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread rapidly around the world, forcing governments to revise their respective national strategies to deal with the pandemic.

Omicron has been shown to be much more infectious than the other variants, with an increased ability to evade vaccines and cause re-infection.

But as the number of infections soared, the increase in hospitalizations due to Omicron transmission was less dramatic.

There is already evidence those who have been injected with a double dose or have received a booster are less likely to be hospitalized or die if exposed to this variant.

This has prompted several countries, including the US and UK, to shorten isolation periods to five days to reduce the problem for citizens being asked not to work or attend school.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned countries against complacency with Omicron, while warning that the variant is still “lethal”, especially among people who have not been vaccinated.

So what is the explanation behind the new guidelines and what do we know about how the new variant spreads?

How long does it take for Covid symptoms to appear?

While more studies are needed to fully understand the Omicron variant, research to date suggests that the newer variant may not only be lighter than the previous one, but also have a shorter incubation period.

Incubation is the time between a person contracting the virus until symptoms appear.

In early variants of the coronavirus, symptoms usually appear within five to six days after infection. The Delta variant, for example, is estimated at four days.

Based on our current knowledge of Omicron, symptoms appear to appear within two to three days of infection.

A preliminary study of six cases of Omicron in the US, published in December 2021, found that the average incubation period was three days, compared to about five days for other variants.

Once a person is exposed to Omicron, the multiplication of the virus can begin within a day, Dr Vicente Soriano, an infectious disease expert at La Rioja International University in Spain, told the BBC.

Within two days, the disease can be detected.

How long can someone who has been infected with Covid infect other people?
Scientists already know that people who catch the coronavirus tend to be more infectious earlier during their infection.

Regarding Omicron, it is believed that the virus can be transmitted one to two days before symptoms begin to appear two to three days later.

Dr Soriano said: “We believe that this virus is only contagious for five days. In other words, the ability to infect other people, i.e. transmit the virus, lasts for three to five days after a positive test, which occurs on the second day of infection.”

The Omicron variant appears to stay in the body for about seven days, he said.

This means that about seven days after the onset of symptoms, most people will no longer be infectious, if they no longer show any symptoms.

“But this is medicine, not math, so you have to make some leeway,” said Dr Soriano.

“Maybe some people have a slightly shorter duration, about three or four days, and others around seven days. For sure with Omicron, the infection is much faster than the previous variant.”

The best way to be sure is to have an antigen test (also called a rapid lateral flow test) to detect if the person is still infectious.

“This is a cheaper test and can detect whether someone is still infectious,” he said.

When can I meet other people after showing symptoms of Covid?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines that allow people who test positive for Covid to mingle with other people after five days of isolation, but under certain conditions.

Here’s what to do if you test positive, according to the CDC:

If you have had COVID-19 and have symptoms, isolate for at least 5 days. To calculate your 5-day isolation period, day 0 is the first day of your symptoms.
If you no longer have symptoms or your symptoms improve after five days, you can leave the isolation area or leave your home.
Continue to wear a mask when you are with other people for the next five days.
Avoid traveling for a full 10 days after the first day of symptoms. If you must travel on days 6-10, wear a tight-fitting mask when you are around other people during the trip.
If you have a fever, continue to isolate yourself at home until the fever goes away.

How long am I infectious if I have no symptoms?

Many people with Covid do not experience symptoms during infection.

They should expect the infection to persist for the same period as someone who has symptoms, Dr Soriano said.

“There’s still a lot that’s unknown about asymptomatic infections. But their duration appears to be similar to those of people who have symptoms,” he told the BBC.

“There are studies of Covid in children, who are usually asymptomatic, and this study shows that the amount of virus in them, even without symptoms, is the same as in adults who have symptoms.”

Can an asymptomatic person infect other people?

A number of studies have shown that people who are infected with Covid, including those without symptoms, can still transmit the coronavirus to others.

They are more likely to infect others, because they will not undergo isolation or adopt behaviors to prevent the spread of the virus.

Research published in the JAMA Network Open (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that nearly one in four cases of transmission are carried out by asymptomatic people.

It is estimated that this occurs in the Omicron variant in a higher proportion than the previous variants.

Authorities recommend wearing masks, especially indoors, to help reduce the risk of people unknowingly spreading the virus.

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