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Omicron symptoms could seem like a cold — but don’t underestimate this variant, experts warn

LONDON — Symptoms associated with the Covid-19 omicron variant could be similar to those that normally accompany a cold, but experts are warning people that they should not underestimate the risks posed by the more transmissible strain.

One British study has now suggested that omicron infections could be associated with symptoms that make it easy to mistake it for an everyday illness like a cold.

The ZOE COVID Study, which analyses thousands of Covid symptoms uploaded to an app by the British public, looked this week at symptoms associated with Covid cases in London that were recorded over two separate weeks in October and December, that is, before (as far as we know) and after omicron was spreading in the capital.

This initial analysis found similarities between the delta and the omicron variants, suggesting the latter hasn’t mutated back into the more flu-like symptoms of previous Covid strains. The team said that the top five symptoms reported in the ZOE app in those two different weeks were:

- Runny nose

- Headache

- Fatigue (either mild or severe)

- Sneezing

- Sore throat

London was selected for the ZOE analysis due to the higher prevalence of omicron compared with other regions. The omicron variant is already the dominant strain in the capital and will soon account for nearly all infections in London and the wider U.K.

Experts predict this phenomenon is likely to be repeated across other countries around the globe. This time, with the omicron variant, cases could be harder to spot, however.

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, said there was a risk that potential omicron cases could well be mistaken for minor colds.

“As our latest data shows, omicron symptoms are predominantly cold symptoms, runny nose, headache, sore throat and sneezing, so people should stay at home as it might well be Covid,” Spector said in ZOE’s latest report Thursday.

“Hopefully people now recognise the cold-like symptoms which appear to be the predominant feature of omicron,” he added.

Spector noted, as have other British experts on Covid, that omicron looks set to be the dominant strain in the U.K. by Christmas, with many people now questioning whether the U.K. could go into a lockdown in the new year.

“In the New Year cases could hit a peak higher than anything we’ve ever seen before,” Spector noted, although he hoped there could be some reversal of a rise in cases in London as people are encouraged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leading health experts to curtail their social mixing, work from home and wear face masks.

What we know of omicron

It would be a big mistake to underestimate the risks posed by the omicron variant, despite some evidence that it causes milder symptoms more akin to a cold than flu.

Experts have judged omicron as being far more transmissible than the delta variant and believe it will soon become the dominant strain internationally. Omicron’s rise to prominence is remarkable given the fact it was only designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26, two days after South Africa reported that it had detected it.

Early, small studies showed that while it was more virulent than the delta variant, it might cause less severe infections but that remains to be seen at a wider, real-world level with an infected person’s age (younger people tend to experience milder Covid infections), general state of health and vaccination status (including when they were fully vaccinated as we know immunity wanes after six months) being factors in how an illness is experienced.

The South African doctor who first spotted the variant among her patients has said that the initial symptoms she saw in her own clinic were “extremely mild” but this was observational evidence from a small group of people.

Vaccine makers have said that the variant undermines the efficacy of a full course of Covid vaccination but that a booster shot helps to restore much of the shots’ protection against severe infection, hospitalization and death.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/16/omicron-symptoms-cold-runny-nose-headache-london-cases-shows.html 

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