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"Early Signs" of Infection, Say Virus Experts

Here are early signs you might have the Omicron variant.

According to the CDC, the Omicron variant remains the most dominant variant of COVID-19 in the United States, and although cases are going down, in many states there are still rampant infections. While the symptoms of Omicron can, for some people, mimic a bad cold and are considered fairly mild compared to previous variants, for other people, particularly unvaccinated people, Omicron can be quite brutal. "This Omicron variant is acting more like a normal coronavirus, such as those that cause the common cold," says NYU Langone Health infectious diseases physician Dr. Stephanie Sterling to Time. Here are five early signs you might have Omicron, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.


Sore Throat

Woman sore throat with glass of water in her bed

A sore throat is one of the most common early signs of Omicron, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. "Especially in people who we're seeing these more mild breakthrough infections, we are definitely seeing sore throat be a predictor in that group," says Dr. Arwady. "Even if it's a sore throat, no matter what it is, I've told my own staff this, it's what I do myself… if you are sick, even a little bit sick, stay home. More true than ever right now because sick, even a little bit sick, until proven otherwise with a test — that's COVID. That's how we treat it, that's how you should treat it."



Sick woman with flu at home

A persistent cough is another common symptom of the Omicron variant, reflecting how symptoms can be similar to a bad cold. "Cough and fatigue also continue to be common symptoms for people with Omicron," says Michigan Medicine expert Laraine Washer, M.D. "There are reports that upper respiratory symptoms are more prominent with Omicron than lower respiratory symptoms like cough in otherwise healthy vaccinated people."

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Sick woman with tissue and running nose

Congestion is another frequent symptom of Omicron, according to Dr. Washer. "For many people, especially those who are vaccinated and otherwise healthy, Omicron does appear to have relatively mild symptoms, including upper respiratory or cold-like symptoms like a runny nose congestion, sneezing, and sore throat—which is relatively common—and headaches," Dr. Washer says.

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Cold-Like Symptoms

Young woman coughing while lying on bed with a cup of tea

"The classic symptoms of fever, cough and loss of smell were slightly less frequent with Delta than with Alpha, and the cold-like symptoms…became more common," says genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector, founder of health company ZOE which runs a COVID-19 symptom tracking app. "Omicron has really just increased that rather subtle change."

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Man sitting on bed holding his head.

While fatigue is a well-known symptom of long COVID, it is also a strong indicator of Omicron infection. "The reports show that patients in South Africa—many of whom were young—have had severe fatigue, but no loss of taste or smell," said Yale Medicine pulmonologist Lauren Ferrante, MD. 

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan