Pathogenicity, transmissibility, and fitness of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron in Syrian hamsters

Science. 2022 Jul 22;377(6604):428-433. doi: 10.1126/science.abn8939. Epub 2022 Jun 23.


The in vivo pathogenicity, transmissibility, and fitness of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant are not well understood. We compared these virological attributes of this new variant of concern (VOC) with those of the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant in a Syrian hamster model of COVID-19. Omicron-infected hamsters lost significantly less body weight and exhibited reduced clinical scores, respiratory tract viral burdens, cytokine and chemokine dysregulation, and lung damage than Delta-infected hamsters. Both variants were highly transmissible through contact transmission. In noncontact transmission studies Omicron demonstrated similar or higher transmissibility than Delta. Delta outcompeted Omicron without selection pressure, but this scenario changed once immune selection pressure with neutralizing antibodies-active against Delta but poorly active against Omicron-was introduced. Next-generation vaccines and antivirals effective against this new VOC are therefore urgently needed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19* / transmission
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mesocricetus
  • SARS-CoV-2* / pathogenicity
  • Virulence

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants