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Midlands doctor sees rise in COVID hospitalizations, differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients’ symptoms

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 11:39 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in South Carolina, so are hospitalizations.

More than 1,200 South Carolinians are in the hospital with coronavirus as of Monday, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The agency says that’s a 67 percent increase from the previous week.

However, Lexington Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brent Powers says while recent COVID case reports are breaking records, hospitalization rates aren’t.

“It’s not as bad as the August [or] September months were for us. What we don’t know is what the trajectory will be over the next couple of weeks,” Dr. Powers said.

Powers said having seen COVID patients in the ICU and in a clinical setting recently, he is starting to notice symptomatic differences between this latest wave and previous ones.

“In patients who are triple vaccinated, so received their initial vaccination series and then their booster as recommended, what we’re mainly seeing for COVID positivity is mainly a mild upper respiratory tract infection, so kind of like a head cold,” Powers said. “For patients who chose not to be vaccinated. What we’re seeing with omicron is more of a systemic illness. So if they’re having fever, more lower respiratory symptoms, more productive coughs, more aching similar to the flu,” he said.

The doctor explained the vaccine does not prevent COVID-19 from meeting your body but it changes what happens once the virus does interact with your cells.

“What viruses do is they enter your host cells, they then take over your DNA, and then they replicate. So one cell after being invaded by one virus will spew or disperse tens to thousands of viral cells. If you’ve been vaccinated the chances of replicating in your host cells is dramatically reduced,” he said.

If the replication is reduced, Powers says the viral load in a vaccinated person is also lower than in someone who is unvaccinated.

Therefore, Powers says a vaccinated person is less likely to shed a significant amount of virus and get someone severely sick. However, medical experts say repeated exposure to even low viral loads can result in contracting the virus.

Powers says that’s what makes vaccination so key to getting out of this pandemic.

“Ultimately, I think it will spread but hopefully not cause the severity of illness that we see…similar to flu. People die from the flu every year, so it’s a serious illness and we need to protect our patients, our families, and our community from the flu. But the hope is that COVID becomes another viral infection, [which] again we need to guard against, but doesn’t cause such huge disruptions that we’re seeing today,” he said.

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