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If You Have Omicron, Here's When Symptoms Start

Doctor explains how soon you'll start seeing signs of Omicron if you have the virus.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

As we enter another week of the COVID surge, Omicron continues to spread quickly and in just under three months, the variant has infected millions of people. The World Health Organization Tweeted, "Since Omicron was first identified 10 weeks ago, almost 90 million #COVID19 cases have been reported to @WHO. We are now starting to see a very worrying increase in deaths, in most regions of the world. It's premature for any country either to surrender, or to declare victory." Eat This, Not That! Health talked with Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña MD, director of Global Health and Emergency Department physician at Staten Island University Hospital who explained when Omicron symptoms start and how to tell the difference between the virus and the flu. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


First Signs of Omicron

portrait of woman having sore throat problem

Dr. Cioe-Peña says, "The first signs tend to be congestion and other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (sore throat, etc). You should test after an exposure, or any COVID-compatible symptoms. Testing before you see vulnerable family members even if asymptomatic is still inadvisable." 


Other Symptoms

Sick woman with headache sitting under the blanket

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • 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

This list does not include all possible symptoms. CDC will continue to update this list as we learn more about COVID-19. Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness."

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How Soon After You've Been Exposed to Omicron Do You Start Showing Signs?

Young sick student teenager woman outside at bus stop is sneezing into the elbow by an allergy or cold. Scared woman in protective mask afraid cough woman outdoor

Omicron is not only more contagious than COVID or Delta, but people who have been infected with the variant typically show symptoms much quicker, Dr. Cioe-Peña states. "Usually 1-2 days. It's faster than with delta or alpha."


Why is Omicron Less Severe Than Alpha and Delta in Many People

Biotechnology scientist in ppe suit researching DNA in laboratory using microscope. team examining virus evolution using high tech for scientific research of vaccine development against covid19

According to Dr. Cioe-Peña, "Omicron is milder COVID than previous variants, likely because a lot of the mutations that make it more infectious look similar to mutations in coronaviruses that cause the common cold. This likely makes it more infectious but less severe. It is still very severe in patients that are unvaccinated, so this should not be overemphasized."

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It is Possible to Avoid Getting Omicron

Two women with black face masks sitting on bench in park

Taking precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and getting vaccinated helps prevent catching Omicron. Dr. Cioe-Peña says, "Yes, it's very contagious but it is still possible to avoid exposure. For instance, I contracted COVID in early January and because I was frequently testing, I was able to isolate myself in my home and no one in my family, including my 4-year-old unvaccinated daughter, subsequently got COVID."

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The Difference Between Omicron and the Flu

Negative test result by using rapid test device for COVID-19, novel coronavirus

"Usually, the only way to tell is to get tested," Dr. Cioe-Peña explains. "The symptoms are pretty similar. Certainly, some symptoms are more likely with COVID, like loss of taste and smell but other than that it's hard to tell based on symptoms."

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What to Do if You Have These Symptoms

Woman taking COVID test.

Assume you have COVID if you have these symptoms, and get tested. And 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 protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
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