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What an Omicron Infection Feels Like, Say Doctors

Infectious disease expert gives personal account of what COVID feels like.

The COVID surge experts warned about is here thanks in part to Omicron, which is pushing hospital cases towards record highs. "What we're seeing with the Omicron variant is that it tends to be milder person by person, but given how large the numbers are that we're seeing more and more cases come into the hospital," said CDC Chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky Sunday on Fox News Sunday. Omicron may not be as deadly as Delta "on a person by person basis…however, given the volume of cases that we're seeing, we very well may see death rates rise dramatically." Currently, the U.S. is setting grim milestones for infection rates and Eat This, Not That! Health talked to doctors about what it feels like to have COVID and what patients can expect. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert on Getting COVID


Erica Susky, an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) in hospital epidemiology reveals, "I had COVID-19 myself in wave one (April 2020), have followed COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic in the ICU, and have managed Delta and now Omicron outbreaks. Starting with my own experience, it can certainly feel stigmatizing particularly at the beginning of the pandemic as it was still a new and relatively unknown virus. People who get COVID-19 may feel guilty as I initially did. One may think it was their fault having a lapse in one's infection prevention techniques, but we all are human and require human interaction in which viral transmission thrives. One may be worried that they inadvertently exposed someone for whom they care. I stayed away from my family in quarantine, and people who heard of where I quarantined did not want to be in the same building, share the same elevator, and we're wearing gloves despite the fact that the virus does not spread primarily through the contact route. This distressed me as people reacted so strongly even though I remained in a single room throughout my infectious period."


COVID Symptoms Virus Expert Experienced

Woman blowing her nose into tissue

Susky says, "How I felt symptom wise was mostly fatigue, a very small stuffiness in my nose, and an infrequent dry cough (once or twice an hour). In any other circumstance I would have believed this was just due to me being overworked. I thought it might be COVID-19 and got tested only because I was assisting with a COVID-19 outbreak; I was concerned about bringing it home to my family. I later developed a headache, muscle pains, mild cramping and more frequent bowel movements (not necessarily diarrhea). I have had common colds more severe than this and no one would have been able to tell that I was ill simply by looking at me."

"COVID-19 can range from extremely mild symptoms to severe and life threatening," she continued. "People often get cold or flu-like symptoms with COVID-19; dry cough, headache, body aches, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite and malaise. However, there are many other symptoms that can appear as well; falls and changes in level of consciousness in older people, the worsening of chronic conditions, conjunctivitis, and the loss of taste and smell. After about a week of symptom onset, those who get severe COVID-19 manifest. People with severe COVID-19 have trouble breathing and will need supplemental oxygen or ventilator assisted breathing in hospitals."

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Delta Versus Omicron

Ill woman coughing at bed.

"Delta, more often than the original 2019 strain of SARS-CoV-2, caused severe COVID-19 and in younger individuals, but as vaccination became more commonplace, severe COVID-19 abruptly stopped or slowed to a trickle," Susky explains. "Once vaccines became widely available, as with the Delta and Omicron variants of concern, the symptoms were more frequently mild. Now that Omicron is circulating, there are a much larger number of vaccinated people getting COVID-19. Fewer people are getting severe COVID-19, but a lot of people are getting mild illnesses that, like my experience, are not easy to distinguish. This is allowing for very easy transmission and COVID-19 outbreaks have increased again in hospitals and congregate settings. What I am seeing more of in COVID-19 cases now are worsening of chronic conditions and changes of level of consciousness (as mentioned with older people), a mild dry cough, mild diarrhea, sneezing and a stuffy nose."

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How Do People With COVID Feel?

Woman being sick having flu lying on sofa looking at temperature on thermometer. Sick woman lying in bed with high fever.

Robert G. Lahita MD, Ph.D. ("Dr. Bob"), Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health and author of Immunity Strong states, "Everyone's immune system is different, so people will have different responses when they contract this virus. Some people are asymptomatic and feel completely fine; others experience very severe symptoms and end up in the hospital. In general, if you are vaccinated you will experience much less severe symptoms. Right now, there are many cases of the Omicron variant, which produces a more mild immune response."

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How Long Do COVID Symptoms Typically Last?

Young sick woman lies tired in bed with a face mask and holds her head because of a headache.

According to Dr. Bob, "Again, it varies person to person. Some people feel bad for a day; others feel bad for longer. Everyone's immune system is unique. However, you can test positive for COVID up to months after initial infection without being contagious."

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What At-Home Remedies or Treatments Can People Do?

eating yogurt

"There is no at-home cure for COVID, but if you're sick, get plenty of rest, drink water and have soup. Boost up your intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc," Dr. Bob says. "If you have a sore throat, you can try some yogurt or ice cream – foods that will go down smoothly and soothe the soreness."

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How Do You Know When to Seek Medical Attention?

Woman suffering an anxiety attack alone in the night

"If you are struggling to breathe, seek medical attention," Dr. Bob warns. Says the CDC: "Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
  • This list is not all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman getting COVID-19 vaccine shot.

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