This Is the Tell-Tale Sign That You've Got Omicron, According to Data

Initial research shows that one symptom is more common with the latest variant.

Becoming infected with COVID-19 can be different for everyone. Since the earlier days of the pandemic,  a combination of symptoms including fatigue, fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, and/or nausea could be expected—or maybe no symptoms at all. The fact that variants of the virus can be more likely to cause specific ailments than others has also added to the confusion. After all, knowing what to be on the lookout for can be essential for knowing when you should isolate and seek out a COVID-19 test. But now, as more information comes in from researchers, it appears that there's one tell-tale symptom that could be a sign you've got the Omicron variant.

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Preliminary data from a South African study conducted by Discovery Health—the country's largest private health insurer—has begun to shed light on how the latest version of the virus behaves differently from its predecessors. Analysis of more than 211,000 patients who tested positive for COVID—including roughly 78,000 who were confirmed to have been infected with the Omicron variant—found that having a scratchy throat as opposed to a sore throat was among the most commonly reported symptoms, Ryan Noach, MD, CEO of Discovery Health, explained during a news briefing. He added that nasal congestion, a dry cough, and muscle pain or aches in the lower back were also regularly reported as early signs of the variant, The Washington Post reports.

Of course, the changes in the virus also mean that other previously common COVID symptoms may be less likely to appear. On Nov. 27, Angelique Coetzee, a doctor with a private practice in Pretoria and chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), told The Telegraph that none of her patients who tested positive for Omicron 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.

Instead, most of the Omicron patients Coetzee has treated arrived "feeling so tired," making intense fatigue the most consistent symptom that had been reported at the time. Other reports cited an increase in muscle or body aches in the patients. Symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath appeared to be as consistent as they were with the Delta variant.

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As Omicron continues to surge in new areas around the globe, doctors are getting more information about the variant and its symptoms. In London, where officials confirmed the viral offshoot became the dominant variant on Dec. 14, experts said there were reports of certain similar symptoms in patients.

"Things like fever, cough, and loss of smell are now in the minority of symptoms we are seeing," Tim Spector, MB, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London who runs Zoe, the world's largest COVID symptom study, told BBC Radio 4's Today on Dec. 15. "Most people don't have classic symptoms," he said, adding that most were reporting similar signs to a common cold, including headaches, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, and sneezing.

Fortunately, research has also suggested that the latest variant may be producing fewer severe outcomes from illness. "I think it's reasonable to extrapolate from what's being seen in South Africa until we get evidence to the contrary," John P. Moore, PhD, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told The Post about the Discovery Health findings. "The evidence is there is going to be a higher degree of vaccine failure against mild infections—we've already seen that with Delta. … It's not great, but it's not as bad as seeing massive failure that leads to hospitalization and death."

RELATED: 70 Percent of Hospitalized Omicron Patients Have This in Common.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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