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Respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath are signs and symptoms of Omicron. Infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even death in more severe cases.
For nearly two years, millions of people have been reporting their daily health to the ZOE COVID Study, which has helped us follow the epidemic as it spreads. The 480 million reports provided through the study's app, in particular, have revealed that as the virus has evolved, so have the symptoms it causes.
In the year 2020, it became obvious that the original and alpha variants of the coronavirus were responsible for at least 20 different symptoms, including cough, fever, and loss of smell. Fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, muscle pains, and gastrointestinal issues were among them, as were more odd symptoms including skin rashes and "COVID tongue."
We noticed a difference in the most commonly reported symptoms when delta emerged. Shortness of breath, fever, and loss of smell, which were once typical symptoms, now rank lower. Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and persistent sneezing, as well as a headache and cough, became more common, especially among those who had been vaccinated.
Omicron appears to be following in the footsteps of the delta. It's creating symptoms that are more similar to a common cold, especially in people who have been vaccinated, as well as fewer general systemic symptoms including nausea, muscle pains, diarrhea, and skin rashes.
We compared data from early October, when delta was the dominant form, with data from persons who reported having COVID in December, as omicron swept across the UK. We next double-checked our findings by evaluating data from a small sample of participants who had been advised by the government that their positive PCR results indicated omicron infections, either suspected or proven.
The general symptom profile of delta and omicron did not differ significantly, with the top five symptoms being a runny nose, headache, weariness, sneezing, and a sore throat in both periods. However, there are some distinct distinctions in the general predominance of the symptoms.
The number of people who have omicron symptoms. supplied by the author
Anosmia (loss of smell or taste), for example, was in the top ten in October but is now in 17th position. What was formerly a crucial COVID signal is now only visible in about one out of every five patients who test positive. And, according to our research, only about a third of people (29%) will ever get a fever, which is also significantly less prevalent than in the past.
Importantly, we discovered that only half of persons with COVID showed any of the traditional three symptoms of fever, cough, or loss of smell, implying that the government's PCR testing recommendation (which recommends getting a test if you have any of these three symptoms) is severely outdated.
How dangerous is omicron?
This new variety is far more infectious than prior versions, resulting in an increase in cases in the UK and elsewhere. While it's unclear whether the disease will cause an epidemic of hospitalizations, it's important to remember that while omicron and delta may feel like a cold to many of us, they can still kill or cause long-term symptoms that disrupt daily life, especially for those who haven't been vaccinated or who are immunocompromised.
We've observed the bulk of cases in younger people so far, but we're now seeing cases in older age groups as well, even though the overall infection rate remains high. The recent increase in positive cases among the over-75s is concerning, but we remain optimistic that the UK's high vaccination rates among the elderly and vulnerable will continue to result in milder symptoms and fewer hospitalizations. The main issue with omicron is the wave of sick leave it's producing among essential medical personnel.
Is it a cold or omicron?
As we get deeper into winter in the UK, there are several particularly terrible colds circulating, as well as the ever-present flu. The present COVID variants generate symptoms that are extremely similar to those of a common cold, according to data from the ZOE COVID Study app. This implies that based on your symptoms alone, you won't be able to tell what you have. A new sore throat, runny nose, or unusual weariness should be handled as COVID until you've been tested when the rate of COVID is high.
We can track the prevalence of non-COVID colds since donors to the ZOE COVID Study app log any daily symptoms they're experiencing, as well as any COVID test results. Around one in every twelve persons with new respiratory symptoms tested positive for COVID just three months ago. However, according to omicron, roughly 50% of "new colds" are currently COVID.
Test to be sure, even if you assume it's only a cold.
If you or a family member is sick, it's likely COVID, especially if you're sniffling and sneezing a lot. To be sure, you should stay at home and get checked. Keep in mind that, while lateral flow tests are useful, especially if you swab your throat and nose, they are not as sensitive as PCR tests. If you perform one, try to do it again the next day, because a single negative lateral flow result doesn't mean you're not sick.
Finally, whether you have COVID or not, it's best to stay at home if you're sick with strange or cold-like symptoms, avoid contacts, and wear a mask if you do go out, to avoid spreading your germs to others who are more vulnerable.