Experts say the only real way to tell whether you have COVID is through testing, but how can you know if you have Omicron or Delta if you test positive?
It’s a question many have been asking as Omicron’s cases spike after holiday gatherings in the new year. Rapid and PCR testing is the only way to tell if you have COVID, but they won’t tell you which variant you have until your sample is sent to a lab for further analysis.
Doctors have said that symptoms can vary depending on vaccination status, but with Omicron causing an increase in breakthrough infections, some people are noticing that one symptom in particular is changing.
Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News last month that cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be major symptoms of the Omicron variant. But unlike Delta, many patients are not losing their taste or smell.
According to Poehling the evidence so far is anecdotal and not based on scientific research. She also noted that these traits may reflect only certain populations.
His comments echoed what was first seen in South Africa as the Omicron boom.
There, health officials advised people who suspected they may have contracted COVID-19 to look out for common symptoms such as cough, tiredness or fatigue, congestion and runny nose.
But he notes that the loss of taste and smell seems unusual compared to other types.
According to a CDC report, in the recent Nebraska Omicron outbreak, five people were reinfected with COVID-19. The report said that four individuals experienced loss of taste or smell with the virus for the first time, but none reported symptoms during the second infection.
Researchers studying an oomicron-fuelled outbreak at a Christmas party in Norway found that of the dozens of people who experienced symptoms, 12% reported smelling less. The study showed that twenty-three percent reported less taste.
Studies may only reflect certain segments of the population: the young and otherwise healthy, as well as those who have been fully vaccinated.
However, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arvadi has said that while the symptoms of omicron are not changing, an increase in vaccination is changing how many are reacting to the virus.
Arvadi said that now, those who have been fully vaccinated are not necessarily “severely ill and have a fever for several days and have difficulty breathing”, but are experiencing more mild illness. .
“They can only feel like they have a cold,” she said. “It’s good because they’re not becoming seriously ill, they’re not threatening the healthcare system, but it’s certainly of some concern because they have the potential to transmit to others.”
Arvadi said, however unaffiliated, are experiencing similar symptoms in the early days of the pandemic.
Still, CDC data showed that by far the most common symptoms are cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose.
Overall, the symptoms of COVID as described by the CDC include:
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle or body pain
- new loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- congestion or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting