If You Don't Have This Tell-Tale COVID Sign, It May Be Omicron, Doctors Say
One of the most common symptoms doesn't seem to be as prevalent with the latest variant.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has proven to be a challenging virus to pin down when it comes to how it makes people feel sick. Some who are infected can experience one or a combination of symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, and nausea. On the other hand, others experience no symptoms at all. But as the virus changes, so too does the typical set of symptoms it can cause—including the most recent variant to emerge. Now, doctors are saying that if one previously tell-tale sign is missing from your set of ailments, you could have Omicron.
It's important to note that clinical studies are still underway to properly assess Omicron, including figuring out what symptoms the newest version of the virus may cause. But according to early information from doctors in South Africa who have been treating patients with the variant, few or none of their patients who tested positive for Omicron have reported the loss of their ability to taste or smell.
Angelique Coetzee, a doctor with a private practice in Pretoria and chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), told The Telegraph that so far, Omicron cases seem to present with strange but mild symptoms. She reported that none of her patients suffered anosmia or ageusia—the medical terms for loss of smell and loss of taste, respectively—which was common among patients infected with previous variants. "Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before," she said.
Previous research had pegged the loss of taste or smell as a relatively reliable indicator of infection with the virus. In one study from May 2020 published in the Nature Medicine journal, nearly 65 percent of COVID-19 patients reported anosmia as their first COVID-19 symptom. And research from a collection of COVID-19 studies found that loss of smell was more than 20 times more likely to predict a positive case of the coronavirus than other commonly reported symptoms such as cough, fever, or stuffy nose.
While anosmia may be less common with Omicron, other symptoms are showing up more often in patients infected with the variant. Most of the Omicron patients Coetzee has treated arrived "feeling so tired," making intense fatigue the most consistent symptom that's been reported. Other reports cite an increase in muscle or body aches in the patients, as well. Symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath appear to be as consistent as they were with the Delta variant.
Overall, many health experts have been relatively upbeat when interpreting initial reports from hospitals treating patients infected by the variant. "The good news is that everything we're hearing from South Africa suggests that [Omicron's] symptoms seem to be milder than Delta's," Rebekah Ann Vreeland Sensenig, DO, an infectious disease expert at Riverside Health System in Virginia, told Healthline, who also clarified that this may because the virus has mostly been infecting younger people with healthier immune systems.
During a press briefing on Dec. 7, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief COVID adviser to the White House, relayed a similarly optimistic message about Omicron—and even highlighted one other potential difference with the variant.
"It's too early to be able to determine the precise severity of disease, but inklings that we are getting, and we must remember these are still in the form of anecdotal … but it appears that with the cases that are seen, we are not seeing a very severe profile of disease," he said. "In fact, it might be and I underscore might be, less severe as shown by the ratio of hospitalizations per number of new cases."