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As omicron cases rise in the United States, health officials have offered stark warnings about our collective future. The variant is so contagious that “most people will get COVID,” said Janet Woodcock, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration, said recently. Two years into the pandemic, that’s not the news anyone wanted. So many people take comfort in emerging evidence suggesting that omicron actually causes milder symptoms than previous variants. There is a lot of talk about just getting omicron, and finish it at once .

But that is a mistake for many reasons, mainly because there are still many experts who do not know about this variant and how it works. It’s also problematic because many people’s sense of what it means to have a “mild” case of COVID-19 is really… wrong.

Here’s what you need to know about what mild really means and what it doesn’t.

First of all, the definition of mild is not set in stone.

For healthcare providers and laymen, the term tends to conjure up quite different things.

You or I may hear “mild” and imagine spending a few days with a cough or cold. And we might hear “moderate” and think about lying unconscious in bed with a fever for a week. But doctors tend to set a higher bar when someone is considered to be truly ill.

just look at the Definitions from the National Institutes of Health. According to the agency, you can have a “mild” case of COVID-19 that includes any combination of fever, cough, sore throat, malaise or profound fatigue, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of taste. and smell

You are considered moderately ill if the disease has spread to your lower respiratory system or if your oxygen saturation levels have dropped below a certain point.

To further complicate matters, not all health groups or health care providers use the exact same terms. Some refer to “serious” vs. “not serious” illness. All of that is important to keep in mind as you read news reports about mild COVID-19 and think about what a case could mean for you or your family.

So you could have a ‘mild’ case of COVID and not be able to get out of bed.

Some of the terminology around the severity of COVID-19 is fluid, but one thing that is clear is that having mild COVID-19 is no the same as having an asymptomatic case. Asymptomatic COVID-19 means that you not develop none symptoms during the course of your infection.

Preliminary data suggests that asymptomatic infections are quite common with omicron, although again it is too early to say for sure, and monitoring of asymptomatic transmission relies heavily on regular testing.

Mild infections, on the other hand, exist on a spectrum. You may experience some days feeling unwell, like you have a cold. Or you could feel really terrible, like you have a bad case of the flu.

“The big question is whether or not you can recover at home,” carl lambert jr., a Chicago-based family physician, told HuffPost. If you can, even if it means you really can’t do anything and need days or even weeks of rest, fluids, and medication, you still have a “mild” case.

“When I talk to patients, I explain to them that moderate or severe means you had to go to the hospital and they had to keep you to be monitored,” he explained.

Mild (and even asymptomatic) disease has led to long-term complications.

Another reason to take COVID-19 seriously is the clear evidence that even people without symptoms during their infection have developed long-lasting COVID-19. Studies from last summer suggested that about a quarter of patients with mild or asymptomatic cases experienced long-term symptoms, such as mental confusion, migraine, and fatigue.

Researchers are still exploring the connection between mild omicron illness and long-distance COVID-19. Even if studies ultimately don’t show that to be the case, there are anecdotal evidence of people battling “mild” infections that have at least made them miserable for a month or more.

Vaccines protect you from getting Really ill.

So yes, a mild case of COVID-19 could knock you out for a week or two. That’s not fun and can be a significant logistical challenge. Getting vaccinated helps make sure your illness doesn’t turn into something more serious. there are also evidence that getting vaccinated helps reduce the risk of developing COVID-19 in the long term.

Hospitalizations are skyrocketing right now, and there is early evidence from places heavily affected by omicron at the beginning of the current wave that deaths could also start to rise.

But the risk is simply much higher if you haven’t been vaccinated. Recent estimates suggest that you are 17 times more likely go to the hospital if you are not vaccinated against COVID-19. If, on the other hand, you are vaccinated and boosted, you are much more likely to experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

“Patients who have mild symptoms are generally patients who are vaccinated and boosted,” Lambert said.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date recommendations.

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