(WJW) – The South African doctor who alerted officials of the possibility of a new variant, later named omicron, said the “unusual but mild” symptoms were what caught her attention.
In a Telegraph report, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who is a board member of the South African Medical Association, said she first noticed unusual symptoms on Nov. 18.
“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” Coetzee said. “So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer the loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough.”
Coetzee said that after two dozen of her patients tested positive for COVID-19 and displayed these new symptoms, she alerted officials to the possibility of a new variant.
The full risks associated with the new variant are yet to be known, but the WHO said that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant,” as compared to other variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again.
The variant appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people.
Sharon Peacock, who has led genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said the data so far suggest the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility,” but said that “the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.”
Most of Coetzee’s patients were men who reported “feeling so tired,” and half of them were unvaccinated. The patients have a range of ages and ethnicities, including “one very interesting case” of a 6-year-old child with a fever and “very high pulse rate,” she said.
However, she did express concern that those with underlying conditions could experience the more severe forms of the virus.
“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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told viewers in an interview on Weekend TODAY Saturday that it was possible the omicron variant is already in the United States.
President Biden said on Friday that as a precautionary measure, he’s ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday, Nov. 29.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.