How the symptoms of COVID-19 are changing: Sore throat and hoarse voice have become the top symptoms in newer variants


The top symptoms of the Omicron COVID-19 variant may differ from symptoms that were common at the beginning of the pandemic. Omicron may also be less severe than the Delta variant, a study from the UK found.

People with omicron often report a sore throat and a hoarse voice, which weren’t as common in delta cases, a Zoe Health Study found. This applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

People infected with the Omicron variant were hospitalized less often compared to those with the Delta variant, Zoe Health said in a press release about the study. Symptoms also lasted shorter – an average of 6.87 days compared to 8.89 days.

Earlier COVID-19 Variants often caused people to lose their sense of smell. The study found that the symptom appeared less than 20% of the time, and often days after the onset of the first symptoms. Other serious symptoms that were once common — such as fever, headache, brain fog, and eye pain — are less common in Omicron cases. But they can still occur.

The Zoe Health Study, supported by grants from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care, tested vaccinated people in the UK. They tested participants between June 1 and November 27, 2021 – when the Delta variant was dominant – and between December 20, 2021 to January 17, 2022 – when the Omicron variant was dominant.

The study collected 62,002 positive tests and looked at the symptoms of these patients. In addition to a difference in the length and type of symptoms between the two variants, the researchers said, omicron is far less commonly found in the lower airways. Here, infection can cause more serious symptoms and potentially send people to the hospital.

They also found that omicron symptoms don’t last as long in vaccinated individuals.

Delta is better at infecting lung cells than Omicron, the study found. And while Omicron appears to be much more transmissible than previous variants, this variant affects fewer organs than Delta, other studies have found, according to Zoe Health.

The Omicron subvariant dominant in late 2021 and early 2022 was designated BA.1. There are now Omicron subvariants, designated BA.4 and BA.5, that appear to cause loss of smell or taste again, Dr. Celine Gounder to CBS News.

A similar study by Imperial College London also found that the omicron variant had less reported loss of the sense of smell and taste. However, the study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, found that cold- and flu-like symptoms were reported more frequently.

The study used data from REACT-1, a widely used survey in the UK that collected home COVID-19 testing from about 1.5 million participants between 2020 and 2022, and analyzed how symptoms differ between variants and subvariants distinguished.

While newer variants such as Omicron are thought to be milder, Omicron subvariant BA.2 has been associated with more symptoms and greater disruption in daily activities than Omicron subvariant BA.1.

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