Covid-19 Omicron: Why UAE residents should take a test even if they have a cold

Doctors explain how some vaccinated individuals can still test positive for the coronavirus

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Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 6:50 PM

Last updated: Mon 27 Dec 2021, 3:24 PM

It starts with a sneeze or a sniffle. You think to yourself; maybe it is just a mild allergy or a minor cold because symptoms do not match up with the more obvious indicators of the coronavirus, including the ability to taste or smell.

However, UAE doctors recommend that all residents and nationals undergo a Covid-19 test to avoid putting vulnerable individuals at risk by not testing.

Dr Tholfkar Al Baaj, chief clinical officer at Al Futtaim Health, said, "Distinguishing between flu and Covid-19 infections can be hard. Here we try to break down what we know about Omicron symptoms so far - remember, much is unknown this early in the outbreak - and how they may differ from the common cold and flu, or even from the previous variant, Delta."

Since the variant is relatively new, scientists are still studying the severity of illness and what symptoms it will bring — and if they vary from other strains.

"Some hopeful news arrived this week, with three teams of scientists, who studied the course Omicron took in South Africa, Scotland, and England, releasing preliminary results that showed infections more often resulted in mild illness compared to those from the Delta variant before it. The findings suggested those infected were less likely to be hospitalized," said Dr Al Baaj.

Omicron and the common cold have similar genetic markups

A recent study found that the omicron variant and the common cold have similar genetic makeups, explained, Dr Abdal Karim Nasaar, a pulmonologist at Burjeel Speciality Hospital, Sharjah. He said, "The study suggests the symptoms are almost similar. The only difference is the loss of smell, and that may not be enough to differentiate the two."

Dr Nasaar added, "Considering the new variant appeared during flu season, it is better to get tested if you are suffering from symptoms. It will help one to rule out any possibility of infection and keep the general populace safe."

Moreover, doctors have said getting tested is easy nowadays with authorities have made it cost-effective, and results are available without delay.

Residents must not assume they have the common cold

Meanwhile, Dr Mohammed Salman Khan, a general practitioner at Aster Clinic in Qusais, said, "A lot of patients coming to clinics or hospitals with symptoms of flu and fever tend to avoid undergoing PCR tests even at the insistence of the doctors. They tend to ignore thinking it's normal weather change or seasonal flu and that they have taken the vaccine. Hence they are safe."

Dr Khan said these misconceptions should change. "Individuals should get tested for Covid-19 even if they have mild symptoms."

Why do vaccinated individuals get Covid-19 as well?

Dr Khan said, "Although vaccinations are the best means to protect oneself from Covid-19, however, eventually there is also possibility that you may still get infected mostly with milder symptoms. CDC terms this as "vaccine breakthrough infection", which happens in Covid-positive individuals."

"No vaccine is ever 100 per cent effective at preventing infection, and breakthrough infections are occurring," said Dr Al Baaj.

A new study revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses an underground form of transmission, mostly away from the immune system and spreading from cell to cell. "Simply put, the virus spreads from one cell to another as there is no immunity to prevent them there. They remain tucked within cell walls. These target cells become donor cells, and thus a wave is created," said Dr Al Baaj.


The doctor said that this cell-to-cell transmission is not sensitive to inhibition from antibodies generated either through vaccines or the previous infection. "We were able to confirm cell-to-cell transmission is not sensitive to inhibition from antibodies from Covid-19 patients or vaccinated individuals," Dr Al Baaj said.

"Cell-to-cell transmission resistance to antibody neutralization is probably something we should watch for as SARS-CoV-2 variants continue to emerge, including the most recent, Omicron. In this sense, developing effective antiviral drugs targeting other steps of viral infection is critical," he added.

Dr Nasaar explained, "Covid vaccine breakthrough infections are expected. Fully vaccinated people with a vaccine breakthrough infection are less likely to develop serious illness compared to those who are unvaccinated and infected."

The doctor said that even when fully vaccinated people develop symptoms, they tend to be less severe than unvaccinated people. This means they are much less likely to be hospitalized or die than not vaccinated people.

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