GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron, meaning people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with the variant compared to other variants of concern.
"Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (ie, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but information is limited. More information on this will become available in the coming days and weeks," the WHO said in its latest advisory.
It said it is not yet clear if the new Omicron coronavirus variant is more transmissible compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants or if it causes more severe disease.
"Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron," it said.
The WHO said it is working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19 disease, including vaccines.
"There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants," the WHO said.
"Initial reported infections were among university studies —younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks," it said.
PCR tests continue to detect infection with Omicron - which was first detected in South Africa earlier this month - and studies are ongoing to determine whether there is any impact on rapid antigen detection tests, the WHO said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Frances Kerry)