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Telltale Symptoms of Omicron, Say Experts

What to know about Omicron, according to experts.

Omicron has spread so rapidly that we've reached a grim new milestone, with more than 1 million new infection here in the USA, a record worldwide. Less severe or not, with the virus ripping through the U.S. as quickly as it has, it's important to take every precaution to help avoid catching COVID. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explained the symptoms of Omicron and essential information to know. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Omicron and Cluster of Symptoms

Sick woman laying in bed under wool blanket holding thermometer and tissue. Ill girl caught cold flu. Pills and tablets on table.

Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD, Ph.D., a physician-researcher and part of the Heroes of the COVID Crisis Series explains, "As with delta and previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, the symptoms of omicron-based COVID-19 often overlap with seasonal respiratory diseases, and so it can be difficult to be certain that one has been infected with the coronavirus versus a pathogen causing a different illness. Moreover, individual patients may vary markedly in their signs and symptoms, and there is no well-defined presentation that differentiates omicron from delta; clinics and hospitals have seen patients with either one present with highly similar symptom constellations. With that said, the COVID-19 symptom clusters we've been seeing with omicron do, on balance, differ at least subtly from what we've been witnessing with COVID-19 caused by delta, mu, and other strains. In particular, omicron patients less commonly have the 'classic' COVID-19 pattern involving e.g. anosmia or dysgeusia (i.e. a loss or change in smell or taste), a high fever, or cough." 


Omicron Patients Commonly Report these Symptoms—and For Kids, it Can Be Bad, Too

sick girl lying in bed with a thermometer in mouth and touch his forehead

"Individuals with omicron more commonly report early symptoms of rhinorrhea (a runny nose), a scratchy throat (as opposed to an actually sore throat), a low fever, and general fatigue or malaise but not as marked or notable as with delta," Dr. Ulm says. "Again, however, the spectrum of clinical presentations is quite variable and many omicron patients do present with severe symptom clusters. Most concerningly, children seem to be more severely affected by omicron than by delta, and early presentations that appear to be mild frequently take a marked turn for the worse (as is also seen with delta), and thus it's advisable for patients to obtain a COVID-19 test as soon as possible to be sure."


Omicron Symptoms Can Vary

Man lying on bed at home, high fever and coughing.

Dr. Gwen Murphy, Ph.D., MPH, director of epidemiology for Let'sGetChecked states, "Symptoms and timelines vary from person to person with COVID, so it is not entirely predictable day-by-day. In general, the early days of symptoms usually include a bit of a cough, a fever or headache. Fatigue is common. Some people also experience GI symptoms like diarrhea. Some people have no fever, some lose their sense of taste and smell. Some people never develop more severe symptoms but others start to feel very uncomfortable after a few days of relatively mild symptoms. They may develop fever, chills, coughing, extreme fatigue, and breathlessness. If after a week your symptoms are not improving you should continue monitoring and speak to your doctor."


Omicron Versus Delta

Nurse with thermometer measures fever on patient child in hospital bed, wearing protective visor and surgical mask.

According to Dr. Ulm, "It should be noted that the omicron variant has complicated the picture just as the delta strain did upon its arrival in the US in the spring of 2021, given the newest variant's alarming capacity for contagious spread. Moreover, while studies have shown omicron to be somewhat milder than delta, the more optimistic hopes about it have been dashed — omicron's 'relative mildness' has since been shown to be largely a function of high vaccination and previous COVID exposure rates, and it does not, in fact, appear to be intrinsically milder than delta. If anything, many of the early indications of a mild course were revealed to be a mirage due to a mathematical artifact — cases (denominator) rising so much more rapidly than hospitalizations (numerator) — and of particular concern, it if anything does appear to be intrinsically more severe for kids, who previously had been largely spared the worst ravages of SARS-CoV-2 infection." 


Omicron and the Vaccine

Doctor holding a syringe

"Omicron has become the most effective variant so far at evading both vaccine-mediated immunity and natural immunity, with boosters providing the most efficacious priming of the immune system," Dr. Ulm states. "As a result, with the advent of the omicron variant, it's become even more critical for indoor public facilities and locations involving large gatherings to install and operate good ventilation and filtration systems, and for even fully vaccinated individuals to receive a booster as soon as possible, since the protection from e.g. a two-shot dose sequence of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is quite low (with many studies showing as little as 20 percent efficacy or below, but much higher with a booster). Likewise, testing is especially critical given the presence of both omicron and delta for settings involving close personal contact, especially large gatherings, again even for vaccinated individuals."


How to Stay Safe Out There


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.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather