Experts say the only real way to know if you have COVID is through testing, but how do you know if you have an omicron or delta if you test positive?
It’s a question many are asking as cases of omicron increase in the new year after holiday gatherings. The rapid test and PCR test only tell you if you have COVID, but they won’t tell you which variant you have, unless your sample is sent to a lab for further analysis.
Doctors said symptoms can vary based on vaccination status, but with Omicron causing a spike in infections, some are noticing that one symptom in particular may be changing.
Dr. Catherine Boyling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee, told NBC News last month that cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue were prominent symptoms with the omicron variable. But unlike Delta, many patients do not lose their taste or smell.
The evidence so far, according to Poehling, is anecdotal and not based on scientific research. She also noted that these symptoms may only reflect certain populations.
Her comments echo those seen as the first appearance of an omicron wave in South Africa.
There, health officials advised people who suspect they have COVID-19 to pay attention to common symptoms such as coughing, tiredness or fatigue, congestion and a runny nose.
However, they note that loss of taste and smell appears uncommon compared to the other variables.
According to a report from the CDC, in the recent Nebraska Omicron outbreak, five people were infected again with COVID-19. The report stated that four of the individuals experienced a loss of taste or smell during the first time they were infected with the virus, but none of them reported symptoms during the second infection.
Researchers who studied an omicron-driven outbreak at a Christmas party in Norway found that of the dozens of people who experienced symptoms, 12% reported decreased odor. The study showed that 23 percent reported a decline in taste.
Studies may only reflect certain segments of the population: young and healthy people, as well as those who have been fully vaccinated.
However, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady said symptoms with Omicron do not change, but the increase in vaccines does change the number of people who respond to the virus.
Arwady said those who received full vaccinations do not necessarily have “serious illness, fever for days and difficulty breathing,” but instead have milder illness.
“They might just feel like they have a cold,” she said. “That’s fine because they don’t get seriously ill, and they don’t threaten the health care system, but that certainly raises some concern because they have the potential to pass on to others.”
Arwady said the unvaccinated, however, are experiencing symptoms similar to those seen early in the pandemic.
However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the most common symptoms by far are coughing, fatigue, congestion, and a runny nose.
In general, symptoms of COVID reported by the CDC include:
- fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of sense of taste or smell
- sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting