Having a fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, muscle pain, headache, diarrhea, or vomiting can be symptoms of COVID-19. The coronavirus may also have infected a person if they suddenly lose taste or smell. With the appearance of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and its spread in 149 countries, the pandemic entered a new phase with the explosive increase in cases of people affected by COVID-19. If someone has COVID-19 today, how do you know if they got the Omicron variant?
During the Omicron surge, many people report symptoms more like those of a common cold. But that does not mean that the COVID-19 disease should be minimized. In some cases, disconcerting symptoms have occurred, such as low back pain.
According to Dr. Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist who founded the health company that uses the UK-based ZOE Covid app tracking more than 4.7 million people, there were some changes in the frequency of symptoms with the onset of the disease. Omicron variant.
Based on their monitoring, they found that the five most common symptoms associated with Omicron are runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat.
“Classic symptoms of fever, cough and loss of smell were slightly less frequent with the Delta variant than with Alpha, and cold-like symptoms became more common. Ómicron has really only increased that rather subtle change,” Spector noted.
Meanwhile, a small study from Norway found that, among people in a group of cases, cough was the most common symptom associated with the new variant, followed by runny nose and fatigue. As in the case of ZOE, the Norwegian researchers also observed a significant decrease in loss of smell and taste.
When a person takes the PCR test or other tests, including self-tests at home, they can know if they have the infection or if they have had it. But the results do not indicate which variant affected the person with COVID-19.
“To know what type of variant of the coronavirus infected a person, it is necessary to sequence the complete genomic material of the virus from a sample that tested positive. They are expensive and laborious methods that take time. Today it is only used epidemiologically through a sampling of COVID-19 cases. It is a measure that is carried out by the health authorities of each country ”, Graciela Torales, infectious disease doctor and coordinator of Patient Care at the Posadas National Hospital, explained to Infobae.
In many of the countries, after the start of the pandemic, genomic surveillance of the coronavirus was organized to study samples from patients with COVID-19 and identify which variants were circulating.
In Argentina, the ANLIS/Mabrán Institute, of the National Ministry of Health, the Proyecto País initiative, of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and institutions in some provinces such as Córdoba and San Luis carry out this type of study to monitor the variants that circulate in the country.
“Knowing which variant is circulating is of health importance for each country. As there is a high community circulation in different countries, such as in Argentina, a person with COVID-19 may suspect that it is Ómicron. If you have symptoms, you must isolate yourself so as not to spread the virus to other people,” said Dr. Torales.
“Currently, there are many cases of people with COVID-19. But thanks to the high vaccination rate, the hospital system is not overwhelmed when it comes to using critical beds to treat patients with the infection. Hospitalized patients today are mostly people who were not fully vaccinated. Instead, a large part of those vaccinated only have mild cases, “he added.
People with Omicron would have some different symptoms, but it is a subject that is still being investigated. Because the new variant has multiple genetic changes compared to the previous ones.
Early data suggests that Omicron accumulates mainly in the upper respiratory tract, rather than entering the lungs. This could help explain both its lower lethality and potentially why it often causes upper respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose and sore throat. But the variant is still new and research is ongoing.
“The curve of reported COVID-19 deaths has grown in absolute numbers but not as much as the confirmed cases in the country. This is due to the country’s high vaccination rate since the Ómicron variant affects lung tissue less and there are fewer pneumonias and less mortality,” Alejandro Videla, president of the Argentine Association of Respiratory Medicine, who is in charge, told Infobae. of the Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine Service of the Hospital Universitario Austral.
Data from early Omicron outbreaks, including South Africa, the United Kingdom, and New York City, suggested that the variant causes milder illness than others. A UK report from late December 2021 found that compared to people infected with the Delta variant, people with Omicron-related infections were about half as likely to go to an emergency department or require hospitalisation.
However, even a mild case of COVID-19 can make a person feel quite unwell and potentially lead to long-lasting complications like Long COVID or Post Covid. It’s also not entirely clear whether Omicron is itself milder than other versions of COVID-19, or whether population-level immunity from previous vaccinations and exposures is mitigating some of its worst outcomes.