• The Omicron variant represents 73% of new coronavirus infections in the U.S.
  • The CDC still names measles as the most contagious disease on Earth
  • Measles is a condition marked by a rash of tiny, red spots that spread all over the body

The Omicron variant, a highly mutated strain of COVID-19 currently dominating in the United States, could be one of the most transmissible viruses on Earth, a health expert said.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, who works in the Pediatric Infection Control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, on Tuesday predicted that the Omicron variant would cause a surge in cases and possibly overrun the health care system.

“Omicron is the second most contagious virus on the planet,” Hoyen said in a joint press conference, as quoted by Fox8. “We were already in a delta surge in Northeast Ohio, and now we’re in another surge of a new variant on top of that.”

Last week, the Omicron variant only accounted for 13% of all new COVID-19 cases reported nationally. But on Monday night, the highly mutated variant represented 73% of new infections in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Wednesday, the Omicron variant has been detected in 106 countries, including the U.S. Only two states -- Oklahoma and South Dakota -- in the U.S. have yet to report any cases of the new variant until Tuesday night.

Despite the nature of the new variant, the CDC still names measles as the most contagious disease on Earth. The virus can be spread through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms of the disease include high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.

Measles is also marked by a rash of tiny, red spots that spread all over the patient’s body. When left untreated, the disease could cause pneumonia, brain damage, deafness and death. However, cases of measles are rare in the U.S.

Unlike vaccines for measles, it is still unclear how effective COVID-19 vaccines will be against the new Omicron variant. Moderna, one of the manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines, said a booster dose could increase a person's antibody levels against Omicron up by 37 times, citing preliminary data in a company statement released Monday.

Ugur Sahin, the CEO of German drugmaker BioNTech, suggested that three doses of COVID-19 vaccine may still protect people from transmitting COVID-19, adding that early data from South Africa and the United Kingdom were “reassuring.”

117 million children could miss their measles vaccinations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teseum/Flickr