Ómicron: When does a person sick with Covid stop being contagious? (with or without symptoms)

Many countries around the world are seeing a drastic increase in the number of Covid cases, driven by omicron, the new variant of the virus.

But as omicron spreads, it seems to be becoming clear that the symptoms and disease it causes are less severe than those caused by their predecessors.

This means that people who become infected, especially if they are vaccinated, are less likely to be hospitalized or at risk of death.

That is why several countries are reviewing their regulations on the required isolation period for people infected with Covid.

Here we explain how the Omicron variant is changing what has been seen so far about the contagion of the coronavirus.

How long does it take for a person exposed to the virus to have symptoms?

Although there are still very few studies on Omicron, what has been seen so far is that this variant is not only more contagious, but has a shorter incubation period than previous variants.

Incubation is the time that passes from exposure to the virus until symptoms appear.

With the first variants of the coronavirus, symptoms generally appeared 5 or 6 days after infection. With the delta variant they appeared in 4 days.

But from what is known so far with omicron, the incubation period it is 2 to 3 days.


“Basically [con Ómicron] It seems that replication is very fast, ”explains Dr. Vicente Soriano, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases and clinical genetics and former advisor to the World Health Organization to BBC Mundo.

“After being sneezed in the face, replication [del virus] it starts in one day and after 2 days it is already detectable [con síntomas]”Adds the professor from the International University of La Rioja, Spain.

Indeed, a preliminary study of 6 cases of Omicron in the United States, published in December, found that the average incubation period was 3 days, compared with around 5 days for other variants.

Coughing woman

How long does a contagious person remain at risk of infecting others?

It is known that people tend to be most contagious early in their infection.

With Ómicron, it is believed that the virus can be transmitted one or 2 days before the onset of symptoms and 2 or 3 days after.

“We believe that the virus is only contagious for 5 days. In other words, the ability to infect others, to transmit this virus lasts for 3 to 5 days after the test is positive, which is day 2 of the infection ”, the expert points out.

Thus, with Ómicron, the time that the virus remains in the body appears to be only 7 days.

“But this is medicine, not mathematics, so you have to give a little margin. Maybe there are people who last a little less, about 3 or 4 days, and others about 7 days. The truth is that with Ómicron the infection is much faster than with previous variants ”, adds Vicente Soriano.

This means that about seven days after symptoms appear, most people will no longer be contagious as long as they no longer have symptoms.

The expert underlines lthe importance of undergoing antigen testing (also called rapid lateral flow tests) to detect if the person is still contagious.

antigen test
Antigen tests can find out if the person is still contagious. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

“They are cheaper tests and are the best reflection of the cases that are still contagious.”

Because Ómicron appears to have a shorter infection period than other variants, several countries have reduced the time that infected people should isolate themselves.

In the United States, isolation was reduced from 10 to 5 days and in the United Kingdom, it was reduced from 10 to seven days with evidence of 2 negative antigen tests.

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When can I be with other people if I have covid and have symptoms?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you test positive for Covid you must:

  • Isolate yourself at home for 5 days.
  • If you no longer have symptoms or your symptoms are improving after 5 days, you can leave the isolation and leave your home.
  • Continue to wear a mask when you are with other people for another 5 days.
  • If you have a fever, continue in isolation at home until the fever clears.

Source: CDC

Up to 30% of people infected with coronavirus are believed to have no symptoms. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

What happens if an infected person has no symptoms?

With Covid it has been seen that there are people who do not present symptoms during the entire course of their infection.

As explained by the infectious diseases specialist Vicente Soriano, with omicron it would be expected that asymptomatic infection was similar to infection with symptoms.

“Much is still unknown about asymptomatic infections. But the duration of the contagion has to be similar to that of people who have symptoms, “he says.

“There are studies of Covid in children, who do not usually have symptoms, and show that the viral load they have, even if they do not have symptoms, is the same as that of adults who have symptoms.”

Experts note that a person who tests positive for Covid but never developed symptoms will likely no longer be contagious after 10 days.

Can a person without symptoms spread it to others?

Studies have shown that people with COVID who have no symptoms can transmit the coronavirus infection to other people.

Research published in JAMA Network Open (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that nearly one in four infections can be transmitted by people with asymptomatic infections.

It is thought that the rate of asymptomatic transmission appears to be even higher with the Omicron variant.

The infection is more likely to be transmitted to people without symptoms as they will not isolate themselves and will not adopt behaviors to prevent the spread of the virus.

That is why the authorities recommend the use of masks, particularly indoors, to help reduce the risk that someone who is infected but is not experiencing symptoms could unknowingly spread it to others.

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