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Think You Have Omicron? How to Tell For Sure

Experts weigh in on Omicron symptoms.

Cases of Omicron are declining, but the COVID-19 variant is still infecting thousands of people every day. It's tempting to be complacent—who doesn't have pandemic fatigue? But it's still important to stay safe and take precautions to avoid catching the virus. If you have been exposed, experts tell Eat This, Not That! Health how to know if you have Omicron and what to do about it. That said, always consult with your doctor for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Best Way to Tell If You Have Omicron

Young woman sitting alone on her sofa at home and coughing.

"Unfortunately, there's no straightforward way to determine which COVID-19 variant you may have," says Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse with The Mesothelioma Center. " Symptoms can differ, but the most significant difference is the rate of transmissions and the ability of the Omicron variant to reinfect those who have already had COVID-19. One report from the World Health Organization suggests that Omicron more easily bypasses protection from the vaccine, as well. Many people report that symptoms from Omicron are generally more mild than other variants, especially for those who are vaccinated."

Dr. Seema Bonney, the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia adds, "Naturally the first step would be to test for COVID -19. If you test positive, examining your symptoms may help determine which variant you have. The Omicron variant generally causes less severe symptoms than that of the prior variants. The symptoms of  Omicron may resemble a common cold, such as a cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue. The loss of taste and smell is uncommon with this variant."  


Signs of Omicron People Should Know About

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

Marchese says, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists common symptoms of Omicron as fever or chills, cough or shortness of breath, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, loss of smell or taste, sore throat, sinus congestion, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms are similar to other variants of COVID-19, and most tests do not distinguish between different variants. Anecdotally, patients with Omicron tend to report higher rates of runny nose, headache, sneezing, fatigue, and sore throat."

Dr. Bonney says, "Omicron can replicate faster, and it tends to be higher up in the respiratory tract vs. the lungs."  


Why Omicron Isn't Like the Flu

Doctor and covid-19 infected patient in bed in hospital.

"After over two years of study, researchers and scientists know that COVID-19 is much more infectious and potentially deadlier than the influenza virus," says Marchese. "The Omicron variant is responsible for a higher transmission rate of COVID-19, which can develop into severe complications such as pneumonia, blood clots, and long-term complications including heart disease."

Dr. Bonney states, "They are both contagious respiratory illnesses, and while the symptoms may be similar, Omicron tends to be more contagious and for a longer period of time, thus infecting more people than the flu."  


You Can Get Omicron More Than Once

African American little boy with his mother during PCR test of coronavirus in a medical lab

"People who have had COVID-19 typically have immunity for about three to four months," says Marchese. "Some reports suggest that Omicron is five times more likely to cause reinfection than other variants. Unfortunately, Omicron research has only been underway since late 2021, so research is limited. Importantly, people should not underestimate Omicron until more data is available."


Why Hospitals are Overcrowded with COVID Patients

Healthcare workers operating on patient in ICU

"It's not accurate to say that Omicron is less severe than other variants of COVID-19," says Marchese. "What we're hearing, anecdotally, is that patients who may have had a previous case of COVID-19 or who are fully vaccinated may have less severe symptoms with Omicron. However, like any variant of SARS-CoV-2, Omicron has the potential to cause severe respiratory or cardiac complications in any patient, and with an especially high transmission rate, those in poor health or with weaker immune systems are at higher risk."

Dr. Bonney states, "The overcrowding was due to the extraordinary surge that came fast and furious in December and January. Some hospitals were already stretched due to staffing issues."  


How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman wearing protective face mask in the office for safety and protection during COVID-19.

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.

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