- Omicron symptoms can look like flu and cold symptoms and cause headaches, sore throats, and runny noses.
- Omicron appears to cause milder symptoms than previous variants — especially in fully vaccinated people.
- People need booster shots for maximum protection.
- If you’re not sure if you have a cold or COVID, get tested as soon as possible.
Omicron has become the leading variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. Our understanding of this variant continues to evolve, but we now know more about Omicron than when it first appeared — including its symptoms.
So far, studies have shown it is more contagious and causes less severe disease than earlier variants, such as Delta. Symptoms of Omicron infection can also vary.
Peter Gulick, an associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University, told VigorTip that Omicron’s symptoms are primarily in the upper respiratory tract and may include a sore throat, congestion, runny nose and headache. “Nausea and diarrhea occur occasionally,” Gulick said. Others may have muscle aches, fever, and chills.
December data from the ZOE COVID Research app, a global initiative to track COVID cases and symptoms, added fatigue and sneezing to the list of common Omicron symptoms.
In earlier variants, the infection caused more damage to the lungs.
The good news is that, overall, Omicron is milder than Delta in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, Gulick said. “About 90 percent of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated,” he said.
One problem, however, is that Omicron’s symptoms may overlap with those of the common cold and flu. In winter, when we go through cold and flu season, it can be difficult to distinguish a COVID infection from other viruses.
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“The symptoms of loss of taste and smell are associated with COVID, so if you have symptoms and are at high risk, definitely get tested because there are treatments for early-stage disease,” Gulick said. “If symptoms such as cough are severe, seek medical help.”
People should still be vigilant
Even to a fully vaccinated person, Omicron feels like “just a cold,” and it’s much more contagious. This means that people are at higher risk of reinfection. Even for those who were vaccinated, the reinfection rate could be as high as 30 percent, Gulick said.
“You need to be careful — even for most people who get a booster, they’re probably only going to get mild disease,” he said.
We also need to keep in mind the true definition of “mild,” Hilary Babcock, a professor of medicine who specializes in preventing the spread of infection at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told VigorTip. In the world of infectious diseases and epidemiology, mild doesn’t always mean a runny nose. The hallmark of mild illness is whether people end up in hospital.
“A mild infection can still give you high fever, chills and muscle aches and put you in a coma for a few days,” she said. “It’s still considered a mild infection … it could be a more serious illness, but Not severe enough to eventually require hospitalization.”
Of course, people at high risk for severe disease can still face more dire health consequences — even if they’re vaccinated. People over 65, those who are immunocompromised and those with comorbidities such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure can still become seriously ill, Gulick said.
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That’s why booster shots, flu shots, masks and getting tested are still important, he said.
what does this mean to you
If you suspect an Omicron infection, be sure to get tested as soon as possible. It’s also important to get booster shots, wear a mask, and avoid large crowds as much as possible.
How about long COVID?
We’re still learning about long-term COVID. Babcock said Omicron hasn’t been around long enough to get a good idea of whether it’s different from earlier variants, because it can have lingering symptoms.
Long-term COVID after Omicron? we do not know.
Although the research is still evolving, so far it shows that people who have been vaccinated are less likely to go on to become infected with the virus for long periods of time. Babcock said the new data showed that people who were vaccinated and contracted a previous variant of the virus had a much lower risk of long-term COVID than people who were unvaccinated but contracted the virus.
“It’s good data because it shows that vaccination is protective, not only against getting infected and eventually hospitalization and death – all of which are very good benefits – but also, if you get vaccinated, you get The risk of COVID is much lower,” she said.
how to protect yourself
As Gulick pointed out, getting a booster shot is critical. In addition to vaccines, it is also important that people wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid indoor crowds as much as possible, he said. If you suspect you have COVID, getting tested can help contain the spread and protect others. If you are sick, or suspect you may be sick, stay home.
Babcock acknowledged social fatigue from the pandemic and its safety precautions, but said they still matter. When we let our guard down, skip boosted appointments or throw away masks, we are giving the virus more opportunities to spread.
“It’s actually not that difficult to wear a mask; for most people now, it’s fairly easy to get vaccinated and boost immunizations,” she said. “Taking these steps can really help. Even now, for people who are not vaccinated, they can still benefit from getting vaccinated.”
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.