The omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread rapidly around the world since it was discovered in South Africa and Botswana in late November, steadily increasing daily infection numbers wherever it has been found.
The highly transmissible strain caused the UK to reach a pandemic record of 218,724 new cases on January 4, but so far the rising rate of infection has not resulted in unsustainable numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Omicron, but its symptoms seem more akin to those of a common cold, commonly characterized by runny noses, sneezing, and a sore throat during the original strain of the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China , late 2019 was marked by a patient’s fever, cough, and an uncomfortable loss of sense of taste or smell.
A key resource for monitoring the development of the new variant in the UK was the Zoe Covid Symptom Study, an app encouraging UK sufferers to share their experiences with the disease via their smartphones in hopes of understanding them better.
“The most commonly reported symptoms of Omicron are really similar to the common cold, particularly in people who have been vaccinated,” said Dr. Claire Steves, a King’s College London scientist involved in the Zoe-Covid study, in a recent YouTube video analyzing the latest data on the variant.
The table below lists the symptoms most commonly reported to Zoe by people who have tested positive for the virus, depending on which strain of Covid they have been diagnosed with.
Headaches and fatigue were common among patients with “classic” Covid, as well as the Delta and Omicron variants, while runny noses, persistent coughs and sore throats were extremely common among all three strains.
Conversely, it was found that chest pain is rare in all three manifestations of the disease, while the most characteristic original symptom – loss of smell – recurs less and less with each new mutation.
Looking more closely at Omicron, this bar chart shows the most common symptoms of the variant in order of prevalence, with the number indicating what percentage of sufferers exhibited which symptoms, with runny nose again being the most common symptom and loss of smell and shortness of breath being the least common, which occurs in less than one in five cases.
While the Zoe Covid Symptom Study data does not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated participants, by Friday 14 January 90.5 per cent of UK citizens over the age of 12 had received a vaccination, 83.1 per cent were double vaccinated and 62.7 per cent had received a booster shot according to the British government.
Speaking on the importance of a vaccine to ward off Omicron, Christina Marriott, executive director of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “More and more evidence shows that people who have received two doses of the vaccine tend to have less severe symptoms, such as headache, runny nose , sneezing, sore throat and loss of smell.
“It’s important that people who have been fully vaccinated stay alert for cold symptoms and get tested if they live or work near people who are at higher risk from the disease.”