Early data from the UK suggest that people infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 show different symptoms to those of previous strains.
Recent figures published in the United Kingdom show the Omicron symptoms more closely resemble those of the common cold.
The new variant is spreading rapidly with more than 10,000 new Omicron cases confirmed in the UK on Sunday, and as the Netherlands became the first EU country to re-enter lockdown in face of a coronavirus surge.
In Australia, New South Wales logged a record 2566 COVID cases on Sunday, with the state’s health department saying the Omicron variant “likely accounts for the majority”.
So what are the tell-tale Omicron symptoms we should look out for?
What makes Omicron symptoms ‘cold-like’?
According to UK research, the Omicron variant can feel “more like a bad cold” than previously recognised COVID-19 symptoms.
The ZOE COVID Symptoms Study, which tracks symptoms recorded from participants using a smartphone app, reported that the top five Omicron symptoms included a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat.
Symptoms like fever, cough and loss of smell were less common.
However, Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, said the UK was seeing two to three times as many mild reaction infections in Omicron patients with boosters compared to those with the Delta variant.
Australian doctors warn it is too early to assume that the reaction to Omicron here will be similarly less severe than previous strains.
Professor Spector told the BBC that “perhaps up to half of [Omicron] cases are going unrecognised because they basically have symptoms that are very cold-like”.
“So headache, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing — and the only one that gets into the top five is loss of smell or taste,” Professor Spector said.
“We’re now seeing that fever is very low down on the ranking of what we’re seeing at the moment. Even rarer are things like shortness of breath or a persistent cough,” he added.
Omicron symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Scratchy throat (as opposed to a sore throat)
- Loss of taste or smell
- Loose stools
- Mild muscle aches
- Night sweats
How to tell the difference
Although tell-tale signs of the new variant may be harder to distinguish in some people, trademark clues of COVID-19 are still prevalent.
John Bell, Regius Chair of medicine at Oxford University, told the BBC that myalgia, a form of muscle pain, appeared to be another “distinguishing feature” of Omicron infection.
He added that stomach upsets and “loose stools” were also symptoms of the new strain, which is “very, very infectious”.
Key features of coronavirus, including a continuous cough, fever or high temperature and loss of smell or taste, remain linked to some cases of the Omicron variant, but may be less common.