Omicron symptoms: What are they, and how do they compare to other COVID infections?

·2 min read

A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain has said that symptoms of the Omicron variant appear to be mild and could be treated at home.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that on 18 November she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit "very mild".

Called Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO), the variant was detected and announced by South Africa's National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) on 25 November from samples taken from a laboratory from 14 to 16 November.

But is there enough data to know anything for sure?

Scientists around the world have been scrutinising the variant to examine how transmissible it is and if the current vaccines will protect against it.

Though there is still little data, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that disease may not be as severe as Delta - though scientists urge caution when it comes to drawing this conclusion so early.

Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said people should not underestimate the threat of the new variant.

"We're concerned that people are dismissing Omicron as mild," he said.

"Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease the sheer number of cases will once again overwhelm health systems.

"We have enough information in the World Health Organisation to indicate very clearly that this spreads super fast with a doubling time of numbers of cases every two to three days."

So, what are the symptoms of Omicron?

In November, Dr Coetzee said fatigue was one of the main symptoms her patients were reporting.

She told AFP a scratchy throat, mild headache and body aches were also noted in people who tested positive for the variant.

Dr Coetzee, who is also on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, said unlike the Delta variant so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste and there has been no major drop in oxygen levels with the new variant.

Epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector says he has also seen a similar thing happening in areas like London where Omicron is dominant.

"The majority of people testing PCR positive have cold-like symptoms, and they do not have the classical triad of the old COVID symptoms of fever, loss of smell and taste, and persistent cough," he said.

He said it will look "just like a severe cold to many people", with the majority of symptoms similar to a common cold, including headaches, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and sneezing.

"Don't wait for a temperature, loss of smell, or cough - more than 50% of people in London never get those symptoms, and yet they're testing positive," he warns.

He said in London, people with cold symptoms are more likely to have COVID than a cold.

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