Why We Shouldn’t Treat Omicron Like the Flu or Common Cold   

Why We Shouldn’t Treat Omicron Like the Flu or Common Cold

Why We Shouldn’t Treat Omicron Like the Flu or Common Cold
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jerry Zuckerman, M.D.

We have entered a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with the omicron variant, which comes with both good and bad news. The good news is that most cases are milder; the bad news is it spreads at an alarming rate.

But if it’s mild, like a cold or the flu, does it matter how it spreads? 

“It absolutely matters. It’s true that the omicron variant is milder than previous variants, especially for fully vaccinated and boosted people, however, it still can cause severe disease in those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,” says Jerry Zuckerman, M.D., vice president of infection control and prevention at Hackensack Meridian Health

“It can also cause an exacerbation of other conditions an individual may have such as heart failure or emphysema - these exacerbations can have a serious impact as well.”

Why Omicron Is Concerning

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t have exact numbers on how easily omicron spreads compared to other variants or illnesses, COVID infections are increasing exponentially. Even occasional complications could be problematic due to the scale of infections.

Think of it this way, using simple math: 

  • Let’s say 1 percent of people who are infected need hospitalization. 
  • If 100 people get infected, only one person will end up in the hospital. 
  • But if 100,000 people get infected, 1,000 people need to be hospitalized.
  • If 1.35 million people are infected—the total of new cases in the U.S. on Jan. 10, 2022—13,500 people will need to be hospitalized.

At the same time, hospitals are also being impacted by worker shortages, as their own staff becomes exposed or infected. 

“When hospitals are overly stressed, this doesn’t just impact patients being seen for COVID-19, but also non-COVID patients who need emergency services for heart attacks, stroke, appendicitis and other health crises,” says Dr. Zuckerman.

How Can You Help?

The state of the medical system isn’t out of our control completely. We can help reduce the burden by doing the following:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Get your booster, if you are vaccinated
  • Wear a mask when around others indoors
  • Practice social distancing
  • Stay home when you don’t feel well
  • Get tested when you are symptomatic

“Practicing these safety measures will not only decrease your chance of getting infected with the omicron variant but also reduce the chance of transmitting it to others – both will help reduce the strain on your local hospitals and health care system,” says Dr. Zuckerman.  

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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