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Feeling Sick? How to Tell It's COVID

Here's what doctors say about the latest symptoms of Omicron and Delta variants.

These days, if you're sniffling, sneezing or feeling achy, it could be a cold or the flu. It also might be COVID. Experts say that new variants of the coronavirus have slightly different symptoms than the "classic" signs reported earlier in the pandemic, such as loss of smell or taste or shortness of breath. Additionally, symptoms seem to be different if you've been vaccinated. Here's what doctors and public health experts say about the latest coronavirus symptoms. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Latest on Omicron Symptoms

Woman with sore throat at home

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first warned the world about the new Omicron variant, said last week that its symptoms are "totally different" from the Delta variant of COVID. She said those infected generally don't have a loss of taste and smell or need to be treated with oxygen. 

"It's very much like a cold or flu type of symptoms," she said, adding that patients are reporting headaches, body aches, and sore throat. "They don't have a severe cough and they don't have a running or blocked nose as you would see with an upper respiratory tract infection."


Delta Symptoms Were Also Different

Young woman sitting on a couch, holding her head, having a strong headache. Close up Portrait of young woman with headache.

Right now, the vast majority of new COVID cases are of the Delta variant (although Omicron cases have been reported nationwide and are likely spreading rapidly). Since the early days of the pandemic, experts at the COVID Symptom Study have been tracking symptoms associated with new cases of the coronavirus. They found that Delta COVID symptoms were different from earlier strains of COVID, depending on your vaccination status. 

These are the most commonly reported initial symptoms of Delta COVID, if you've been vaccinated: 

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Persistent cough

If you haven't been vaccinated, symptoms tend to be like those of earlier strains of COVID-19, including fever, a cough that can be severe, loss of taste or smell, in addition to headache, sore throat, and runny nose.

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Other Common COVID Symptoms

Woman lying at bed.

According to the CDC, the common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

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So How Do You Know If It's COVID?

Close-up of young man getting PCR test at doctor's office during coronavirus epidemic.

If you have a fever, a cough, or fatigue, how do you know if it's a cold, the flu, or COVID? You really can't, experts say. So to protect your health and the health of others, it's important to practice an abundance of caution.

Their advice: If you're having any symptoms that are out of the ordinary, get tested for COVID as soon as possible—even if you've been fully vaccinated—and self-isolate until you know the results.

If you test positive for COVID, the CDC says you should isolate for 10 days after the date any symptoms started, as long as your symptoms are improving and you've been fever-free for at least 24 hours (and without using any fever-reducing medications). If you test positive but don't have symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from the date of your COVID test. 

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman in medical protective mask getting injection in arm vaccination.

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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 protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael