If You Notice Pain Here, It May Be an Omicron Symptom, Doctors Warn
Patients are reporting this unusual sign of COVID amid the spread of Omicron.
In less than two months, Omicron has taken over the world, with global coronavirus cases topping 300 million. The new variant is now estimated to account for more than 95 percent of new cases in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As Omicron surges throughout the country, it's easy to worry you've come down with a case—but you need to be aware of all the variant's distinctive symptoms. While cough and shortness of breath were once telltale signs of COVID, many doctors are now warning that COVID symptoms have evolved along with the virus. Read on to find out what pain could actually be a sign of an Omicron infection.
Lower back pain may be a symptom of the Omicron variant.
If you're feeling new, unexplained pain in your back, it could be a sign of COVID. New data from the ZOE Covid Study App has revealed that lower back pain is one of the eight new symptoms of the Omicron variant, as reported by The Telegraph. This sign was first associated with the latest iteration of the virus early on by doctors in South Africa, who said they were seeing frequent instances of muscle aches that were manifesting as lower back pain in the Omicron patients they were treating, per The Washington Post.
This could be because Omicron affects the body differently.
In December, Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor and one of the first to report on Omicron, told MSNBC that she believes this symptom may be a result of the new variant attacking the musculoskeletal system to start with, impacting muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments with aches and pains. "People will tell us they went to bed last night [and say that] they felt warm and cold during the night, [and wake up with] body aches and pain, chest pain, or backache and fatigue—that's Omicron," she told the news outlet.
Top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, also touched on how differently the new variant is manifesting in the body. A number of new studies have shown that the virus of Omicron spreads "very poorly in the lungs" and "has less pathogenicity in the lung," he said during a Jan. 5 press briefing.
Doctors say the new variant looks a lot like a cold.
While Omicron is infecting the lungs less effectively, it still seems to be doing a good job at infecting the upper respiratory airways—making the illness look a lot like an ordinary upper respiratory infection. "A common cold and Omicron is, in my view, impossible to distinguish," Eskild Petersen, MD, a doctor for Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and chair of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, told The National.
According to the Zoe COVID Study App, the five top symptoms of Omicron are runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat. "It's mostly that runny nose, sore throat and nasal congestion," John Vanchiere, MD, the associate director of the Center for Emerging Viral Threats at LSU Health Shreveport, confirmed to NPR. "The cough is milder [than previous variants], if there's any cough at all, and fever seems to be a little less common."
Some classic COVID symptoms are barely being seen with Omicron infections.
Along with cough and fever, doctors are warning that loss of taste and smell are not all that common with the Omicron variant. Prior research has suggested that nearly 48 percent patients with the original strain of COVID had loss of smell and 41 percent had loss of taste. But a small analysis of an Omicron outbreak among vaccinated people in Norway found that only 23 percent reported loss of taste and just 12 percent reported loss of smell.
And some experts say the "new" symptoms of Omicron like back pain might just be more noticeable now that these classic COVID signs are less prevalent. Scott Roberts, MD, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, told NPR that it's possible doctors and patients are just paying more attention to these subtler signs than they did with earlier variants. "A lot of this is probably magnifying these symptoms under a microscope instead of clear changes," he said.