Doctor explains why omicron is so contagious, new symptom to look out for

SAN FRANCISCO -- The COVID -19 omicron variant continues to break previous daily highs for case rates in California due to its high likelihood of transmission. But why?

In California, we are all too familiar with the term spreading like wildfire, and it's now used for omicron because of where the variant lives in your body.

"There's a lot more in the big airways of the lungs," UCSF Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said. "Because that's closer to the nose and mouth and there's a ton there, you just expel it a lot more."

Due to it lingering longer in the air, Dr. Chin-Hong says there are more places that can be risky.

Northern California's Marin County surveyed students who tested positive in the county after the holidays. Many said they traveled out of the state, participated in indoor sports and attended indoor gatherings.

"Anywhere, not just indoors, where you're spending a long time in, like more than an hour or thirty minutes, then you really need to up your COVID precaution game," Dr. Chin-Hong said.

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Dr. Chin-Hong says you can be contagious for around two days before experiencing symptoms and roughly three days after. He adds the symptoms you show are often very mild since the infection is not in the meat of your lungs.

"We're not seeing inside infection like a fever that causes your whole body to be sick because the lung isn't as inflamed and we're seeing outside infection," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "Runny nose, congestion, earache because it's all congested up here."

That last symptom is starting to be recognized as more common than once thought: ear pain.

Stanford University Bertarelli Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Dr. Konstantina Stankovic and her team recreated an inner ear and exposed it to COVID as a test.

They learned that the virus could lead to inner-ear COVID symptoms and people must take note.

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"If you notice hearing loss or dizziness or ringing in your ears, don't dismiss them," Dr. Stankovic said. "Get tested formally. In some of our patients, we've seen that hearing loss is the only sign of COVID infection."

Dr. Stankovic says the ears were likely infected through the nose, highlighting the importance of proper mask use.

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