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Most Common Symptoms of the Delta Variant

A new variant comes with new symptoms.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is now the predominant strain circulating in the U.S., responsible for up to 94% of current cases. Not only is Delta much more infectious than previous variants, it may be causing symptoms that are different than those previously associated with COVID-19. Researchers are studying this possibility and haven't released official findings, but one crowd-sourced study points up some significant differences. Read on to find out what they are—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.



migrane headache

The COVID Symptom Study is being conducted by King's College London, whose researchers are tracking COVID symptoms reported by newly diagnosed people via an app. The scientists are reporting three groups of findings: among the unvaccinated, fully vaccinated and those who've had one vaccine dose. 

"Even people who have had one or two doses of the vaccination can still be susceptible to contracting COVID, and the symptoms and severity differ depending on how many vaccinations you've had, if any," they wrote. 

But not headache, which was the #1 COVID symptom reported in all three groups. This is different from earlier in the pandemic, when people most commonly reported a cough, shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste. In fact, the researchers say loss of smell seems to have become less common as the virus has evolved. It ranked #9 among the unvaccinated and only made the top 5 (at #5) in people who were fully vaccinated.


Runny Nose

Ill young blond woman having fever and blowing her nose while having a blanket on her shoulders and sitting on the couch with her eyes closed and table with pills in front of her

A runny nose was the #2 most reported symptom by fully vaccinated and partially vaccinated people, and the #3 most common symptom in the unvaccinated. Earlier in the pandemic, a runny nose was thought to be unrelated to coronavirus infection. 

And symptoms similar to a cold, allergy or more minor respiratory issue seem to be more common with Delta, particularly among the vaccinated. After testing positive earlier this month, fully vaccinated Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that his "mild symptoms" felt "like I have a sinus infection." He added that without the vaccine, "it would have been a lot worse."



Woman with face mask sneezing into elbow while sitting in a cafe.

Sneezing was the #3 most reported COVID symptom among the fully vaccinated and #4 in the partially vaccinated group in the COVID Symptom Study. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Gabe Kelen, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins, told WMAR 2 News Baltimore that early Delta symptoms often resemble a summer cold, in contrast to the flulike symptoms of the initial COVID-19 strand.

"A majority of these cases start with sniffles [and] sore throat," he said. "And even among healthcare workers we know many thought, 'Well this is just a summer cold, it's not the way COVID is really supposed to present,' and it ultimately turned out they had COVID."

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Sore Throat

Woman sore throat with glass of water in her bed

A sore throat was the #4 most reported symptom among the fully vaccinated, #3 among the partially vaccinated, and #2 among the unvaccinated in the COVID Symptom Study. 

"What we see with the Delta variant so far has been that you're a little bit more likely to have a sore throat, more likely to have sinus congestion, and a little bit more likely to have a runny nose," Dr. Wesley Willeford told WBRC 6 News in Birmingham, Alabama, earlier this month.

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A woman wearing a face mask in the city coughing.

A persistent cough was the fifth-most-reported symptom among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated in the COVID Symptom Study. But coughing only ranked #8 among the fully vaccinated—possible evidence that another previous hallmark symptom is becoming less common. Also sliding down the list: Shortness of breath and fever, which are much less frequently reported now than in the pandemic's first waves.

  • 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

"If you have symptoms that are anywhere out of the ordinary, I think the first thing you should do is think about getting a COVID-19 test, and certainly if you're having fevers, or having more noticeable symptoms, you most certainly should get a COVID-19 test and try to avoid being around other people to prevent spreading COVID-19," said Dr. Willeford.

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How to Stay Healthy

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.

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