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Healthwise Maui

Q: What is omicron, and why are people concerned about it?

Dr. Travis Glenn, Family Medicine, Glenn Family Medicine: The omicron variant is a new variant of the COVID-19 virus. Scientists are concerned about it because omicron has many more mutations than other COVID variants. That means it’s significantly different from the other variants and may behave in different ways.

Because omicron is so new, scientists are still working to understand it. It’s still unclear whether omicron will cause more severe illness than other variants. However, it appears to spread more easily. Another key difference is that home tests are not as accurate in detecting an infection and may give you a false negative result. However, if your home test is positive you can say that you have COVID and do not need further testing — start isolating and contact your doctor for further recommendations.

It also appears more likely to cause breakthrough infections in people who have already been vaccinated. However, current vaccines should still protect you from severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

The best way to protect yourself from omicron and other variants of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. If you get vaccinated, even if you do get a breakthrough infection, you are more likely to have a mild illness and recover quickly.

Finally, masks continue to protect against all variants. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public, indoor spaces. Your mask should fit over your nose and mouth and have a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out.

If you have symptoms or think you may be infected with COVID-19, contact your doctor or get tested so you can self-isolate and avoid transmitting it to others.

Q: What is myocarditis, and is it a common side effect of the COVID vaccine?

Dr. Travis Glenn, Family Medicine, Glenn Family Medicine: Myocarditis is a condition that occurs when the immune system causes inflammation of the heart muscle. A similar condition, called pericarditis, involves inflammation of the lining that surrounds the heart.

Cases of myocarditis and pericarditis have occurred after the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, but they have been rare. Most cases have been mild, responded well to treatment and went away quickly. According to the CDC, this side effect has been more common in adolescent males.

To put it in perspective, one study of 40 hospitals on the West Coast found that, out of more than 2 million people who were vaccinated, 20 developed vaccine-related myocarditis, and 37 developed pericarditis. Of these patients, 19 were admitted to the hospital, and all fully recovered.

Still, myocarditis and pericarditis are serious conditions, so it’s important to be informed. Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include chest pain, shortness of breath and feeling like your heart is racing or fluttering. You should contact your doctor and seek medical care if you or your child have symptoms.

It is also important to remember that myocarditis and pericarditis are more commonly caused by a COVID-19 infection. Additionally, COVID can also cause many other serious health problems, some of them life-threatening. That’s why we agree with the CDC that the risks of getting COVID-19 far outweigh the potential risks of side effects from the vaccine. To read more about myocarditis and pericarditis after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/myocarditis.html.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on Thursdays. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.

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