How do you know you are infected with Omicron? (2023)

As infections of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — continue to spread around the world, there have been reports that symptoms, in some respects, are different from those of Delta variant infections. Do symptoms really differ? What should you look out for?

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All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated a new SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, which became known as Omicron.

The variant has caused concern among health authorities because it appears to be highly transmissible and likelier to reinfect.

According to a study that has yet to undergo peer review, it may also be more stable than previous variants and, therefore, persist in an infectious state on surfaces such as skin and plastic for longer periods — over 16 hours.

Furthermore, there have been worries that Omicron can bypass the protection conferred by COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer maintains that three doses of its mRNA vaccine are able to neutralize Omicron in laboratory experiments and that two doses may still prevent serious illness following infection with this variant.

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

(Video) What are the early symptoms of Omicron variant of COVID-19? Here's what one doctor has seen

For these reasons, countries worldwide have been taking various measures and precautions to reduce the spread of Omicron among their populations.

Nevertheless, within a world in constant motion, it may be impossible to stop it from spreading altogether. Some cause for optimism may be that various reports suggest that infections with this variant tend to cause milder symptoms than those with previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as Delta.

But how can someone tell if they have the Omicron infection? Are the symptoms the same as those of infections with previous variants?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the possible symptoms of a SARS-CoV-2 infection without specifying a variant. These are:

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • sore throat
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

However, the CDC notes this list is not exhaustive, and people might experience different symptoms or combinations of symptoms. Furthermore, anecdotal reports on social media and other platforms claim that more specific combinations of symptoms characterize Omicron infections.

The Zoe COVID Study — conducted by researchers from health science company ZOE and King’s College London in the United Kingdom — uses data from over 4,000,000 participants.

The study’s recent analysis aimed to determine whether there were any differences between the most common symptoms of infection with the Delta variant and the most common symptoms of infection with Omicron.

(Video) COVID variant Omicron: What are the main symptoms? | Al Jazeera Newsfeed

They compared symptoms reported via the Zoe COVID Study app by U.K. participants who tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2021, when Delta was dominant in the U.K., with those who tested positive in December 2021 when Omicron had become the dominant variant.

Preliminary analysis indicated that the most commonly reported symptoms reported in both months were largely the same: a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and a sore throat.

The findings suggest no strong differences in the most commonly experienced symptoms likely caused by the two SARS-CoV-2 variants.

However, according to this self-reported data, the ZOE scientists also note that loss of smell and taste appear to be less common among people recently testing positive for COVID-19.

Medical News Today spoke to Dr. David M. Cutler, family physician at Saint John’s Physician Partners in Santa Monica, CA, to find out more about doctors’ advice regarding symptoms of an Omicron infection.

Dr. Cutler reiterated that symptoms vary and may not stand out in any particular way, compared to signs of infection with previous variants.

“The variety of symptoms seen with Omicron is the same as with other SARS-CoV-2 variants,” he said. “It seems quite notable that people affected by the same variant may experience quite different symptoms. Some get nasal stuffiness, others headache, sometimes body aches, and others get a sore throat.”

However, he noted, “[s]erious lung infections appear to be less likely with Omicron than [with] prior variants.”

That may be because, unlike other variants, Omicron preferentially infects the upper respiratory tract. This may also be why it seems to cause milder symptoms, according to WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud.

(Video) Omicron - Incubation And Contagious Period (Vaccinated, Unvaccinated, Previously Infected)

“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike the other ones, that could cause severe pneumonia,” he says, though cautions that more studies are necessary to confirm this.

There have also been some anecdotal reports that lateral flow tests — also known as LFTs — may be less effective at detecting the presence of an Omicron infection.

Such tests, which people can do at home, are based on samples taken from a person’s nose, throat, or both and are meant to detect certain viral antigens, which indicate the presence of a viral infection.

According to Dr. Cutler, “[l]ateral flow tests are inherently inaccurate [because] [t]hey do not detect low levels of virus as well as PCR tests.”

RT-PCR tests, or PCR for short, are based on samples taken from both a person’s nose and throat. These samples, however, undergo laboratory testing, which can reveal whether SARS-CoV-2 specific genes are present. PCR tests are more sensitive and generally held as being more accurate.

Testing for genetic markers can also reveal, more specifically, the SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Some health agencies, such as the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), have nevertheless declared that, when used correctly, LFTs should detect infections with any SARS-CoV-2 variant in most cases.

A laboratory evaluation of lateral flow devices currently in use in the U.K by the UKHSA also suggests that LFTs detect Omicron as effectively as previous variants.

What happens if you become infected with the Omicron variant, and symptoms are mild enough not to require hospitalized care? How can you treat a mild infection at home?

“There are no specific home non-prescription drug remedies for preventing or treating [COVID-19],” Dr. Cutler noted.

The best remedies are similar to those you might use to treat mild flu symptoms or a cold:

“Recommended treatment is directed at the symptoms: stay hydrated, rested, and well-nourished. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve headache, body aches, or fever. Avoid unproven remedies like hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, zinc, and vitamin D, which have no known value and can cause adverse effects.”

– Dr. David M. Cutler

(Video) Can a person be contagious more than five days after positive COVID test?

As they say, though, prevention is better than cure, so taking measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming infected with Omicron or any other SARS-CoV-2 variant is the best approach.

“The best method to prevent infection with any SARS-CoV-2 variant is a multiple technique approach,” explained Dr. Cutler. “I like to call this a ‘Swiss cheese’ approach.”

(Video) COVID-19: What are the symptoms of the new variant?

“[J]ust like you need multiple layers of Swiss cheese so that you can’t see any ham through the cheese holes in a sandwich, you need multiple types of protection to prevent [COVID-19]. No one protective technique is 100% effective. Vaccines, masks, distancing, ventilation, and avoiding ill or unvaccinated people are all important and effective to prevent you from getting [an] infection. And isolating when you are infected is critical in preventing you from spreading [the virus] to others.”

– David M. Cutler

For live updates on the latest developments regarding COVID-19, click here.

FAQs

What are the first symptoms of Omicron? ›

All of the variants, including omicron BA.5, cause similar COVID-19 symptoms:
  • runny nose.
  • cough.
  • sore throat.
  • fever.
  • headaches.
  • muscle pain.
  • fatigue.

How long does it take for Omicron symptoms to appear after being infected? ›

The time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is thought to be two to 14 days. Symptoms typically appeared within five days for early variants, and within four days for the Delta variant. The incubation period appears to be even shorter – about three days – for the Omicron variant.

What are Omicron symptoms if vaccinated? ›

Symptoms of Omicron can be similar to the original COVID-19 virus and other variants, which can include a combination of the following: fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, headache, sore throat, muscle pains/aches and fatigue.

How do I know if I have Omicron or Delta? ›

Of the more-frequent symptoms, loss or altered sense of smell, sneezing, runny nose, brain fog, eye soreness, headache, fever, and dizziness were reported significantly more often during Delta prevalence, while sore throat and hoarse voice were significantly more often reported during Omicron.

Is sneezing a symptom of Omicron? ›

The study found that sneezing is the fourth most common reported symptom associated with omicron.

Does Omicron start with a sore throat? ›

Compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants, the Omicron variant is associated with generally less severe symptoms that may include fatigue, cough, headache, sore throat or a runny nose.

What does your throat feel like with COVID? ›

Well, it can feel exactly the same as a cold, according to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare. That makes it hard to tell the difference between a cold and a mild case of COVID. It's even harder to tell the difference knowing that sore throat is a COVID symptom.

How long test positive COVID Omicron? ›

During the Omicron BA. 1 period, 80.2% of symptomatic persons with COVID-19 returning for repeated testing were RAT–positive after 5 days, and 34.9% were still positive after 10 days, regardless of vaccine status.

How do you treat Omicron at home? ›

Take proper rest and treat the mild symptoms at home and be in a strict self-quarantine for 7 days to avoid further spread. Currently, there are no specific drugs and medication are available to prevent or treat Omicron variant of COVID-19.

What does Covid headache feel like? ›

Researchers have discovered that some of the prominent features of a COVID-19 headache include: Having a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation. Occurring bilaterally (across the whole head) Presenting with severe pressure that won't respond to typical pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

What does mild Covid feel like? ›

Many people who are infected have more mild symptoms like a scratchy throat, stuffy or runny nose, occasional mild cough, fatigue, and no fever. Some people have no symptoms at all, but they can still spread the disease.” Fever seems to be one of the more common early markers of COVID-19, Kline noted.

Is Omicron a milder? ›

Early studies suggested Omicron appears to be milder than previous strains, although some experts have attributed this to the fact that many more people were vaccinated, and some had immunity from infection.

Do Covid tests show Omicron? ›

The answer is yes, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reported that at-home tests known as rapid antigen tests “may have reduced sensitivity” at detecting the omicron variant, says Mary Hayden, MD, chief of infectious diseases and the James Lowenstine Professor of Internal Medicine at Rush ...

What is the first symptom of Delta variant? ›

Delta variant symptoms are the same

Typically, vaccinated people are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms if they contract the delta variant. Their symptoms are more like those of a common cold, such as cough, fever or headache, with the addition of significant loss of smell.

How do you know you have Covid strain? ›

When you receive a COVID-19 test, you won't find out which variant caused your infection. That's because COVID-19 tests only detect the presence of the virus – they don't determine the variant. Genomic sequencing looks at the genetic code of the virus to determine which variant caused the infection.

Is itchy throat a symptom of Omicron? ›

High fever 39°C. Chilly but sweating. Runny or stuffy nose. Dry itchy throat, cough.

Does COVID start with a sore throat? ›

Yes, one of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 is a sore throat. Other common symptoms include fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache and sudden loss of taste or smell.

Does COVID get better after 5 days? ›

If you test positive for COVID-19 and have no symptoms – you may end after day 5. If you test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms – you may end after day 5 if: You are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) Your symptoms are improving.

Is severe headache a symptom of Omicron? ›

Fever, cough, and loss of taste were reported as common symptoms for the Alpha variant, while runny nose, headache, and fatigue were reported more often for the Omicron type.

Can you have COVID without a fever? ›

Although a fever is a common symptom of this virus, it's still possible to have COVID-19 without a fever, especially within the first few days after being infected.

How do I stop a COVID cough? ›

If you have a wet cough with lots of mucus, you want to take an expectorant to help get the mucus out. If you have a dry cough, a cough suppressant is what you want. Make sure you choose the right one. For pain, try acetaminophen.

How do you tell if it's Covid or a cold? ›

Symptom check: Is it COVID-19 or a cold?
SymptomCOVID-19Cold
FeverUsuallySometimes
DiarrheaSometimesNever
Nausea or vomitingSometimesNever
New loss of taste or smellUsually (early — often without a runny or stuffy nose)Sometimes (especially with a stuffy nose)
7 more rows
14 Oct 2022

When does cough start with Covid? ›

Based on what researchers have learned about COVID-19 thus far, the first symptoms—which generally occur within seven days after infection—can include the following, which are listed in order of their usual appearance: Fever or chills. A persistent cough.

Can you get Covid twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

Are you still contagious after 5 days? ›

People are most contagious with COVID-19 during the first 5 days of their illness. Many people don't have any symptoms during the first 2 to 3 days of their illness. This is why COVID-19 outbreaks are so hard to contain. On average, people are contagious for 5 to 10 days.

Can you test negative for Covid after 3 days? ›

If you were exposed to COVID-19 and do not have symptoms, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before testing. If you test too early, you may be more likely to get an inaccurate result. If you are in certain high-risk settings, you may need to test as part of a screening testing program.

Are you contagious after 10 days of Covid? ›

Those with severe COVID-19 may remain infectious beyond 10 days and may need to extend isolation for up to 20 days. People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should isolate through at least day 20.

How do I avoid omicron? ›

Expert advice for staying safe hasn't changed in light of omicron. Getting vaccinated and receiving a booster when eligible, wearing masks while indoors, washing your hands regularly, avoiding gatherings, and keeping your distance from others remain the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus.

What is the best remedy for omicron? ›

For those without any underlying health issues, treating omicron is primarily supportive, similar to previous variants. Both Campbell and Johnson recommended using acetaminophen (Tylenol) when needed for symptoms that include headache, muscle aches or fever.

What is a COVID cough like? ›

If you're recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you have a cough for some time. You might have a dry cough, or you might have a productive cough, which produces phlegm. If you have a cough with phlegm, your breathing might be noisier than normal, and you may feel like it's more difficult to breathe.

Does COVID start with a headache? ›

Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, with 1 in 4 people reporting headaches during their initial COVID-19 illness. Most respiratory viruses don't cause headaches at such a high rate. Research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is twice as likely to cause headaches as other respiratory viruses.

What is Covid fatigue like? ›

Symptoms of Post-COVID fatigue generally mirror those of chronic fatigue syndrome. They can include physical, psychological, and behavioral complications, including: Persistent Tired and Sleepy Feeling. Mild to Severe Headaches.

Can you have COVID and test negative? ›

A negative result means it's likely you are not infectious. But a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19 and there's still a chance you may be infectious. You should follow advice on how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

What do you drink COVID with? ›

Up your fluid intake.

If you have diarrhea or if you're sweating from a fever or chills, make sure you have salt or a little sugar in your fluids—think broths, fresh juices or electrolyte solutions like Gatorade—because salt and sugar can help you retain water.

Can COVID get worse after 10 days? ›

A hallmark of COVID-19 is its ability to get worse quickly and aggressively. While the 10 to 12 days after a positive COVID-19 test are when many patients are hospitalized, researchers do not understand what changes occur early in the disease and how they may predict hospitalization later.

When do symptoms of Covid get worse? ›

In some people, COVID-19 causes more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia. A person may have mild symptoms for about one week, then worsen rapidly. Let your doctor know if your symptoms quickly worsen over a short period of time.

Is Omicron worse than Delta? ›

The original strain of Omicron was more transmissible than Delta was. One explanation was that more than 30 of Omicron's mutations are on the virus's spike protein, the part that attaches to human cells, and several of those are believed to increase the probability of infection.

Will Omicron affect lungs? ›

Mounting evidence from animal studies suggests that Omicron does not multiply readily in lung tissue, which can be badly damaged in people infected with other variants.

How long does a Covid cough last? ›

In the case of COVID-19, this cough could last for as long as six months after the viral infection, especially if the patient contracted Omicron because it is more airway dependent than the original strain.

Is rapid test accurate for Omicron? ›

Sensitivities of all three rapid antigen tests were highest during the first week (fig 7) when omicron accounted for 28.6% of infections: 87.0% (79.7% to 92.4%) for Flowflex, 80.0% (51.9% to 95.7%) for MPBio, and 83.1% (72.9% to 90.7%) for Clinitest.

Are at home tests accurate for Omicron? ›

They found that the sensitivities (ability to correctly identify a truly positive sample) of the three tests performed with nasal self-sampling decreased during the emergence of Omicron, from 87% to 81% for Flowflex, 80% to 73% for MPBio, and 83% to 70% for Clinitest.

Can you get Covid 3 times? ›

Vaccination and natural immunity have dramatically reduced the death toll from COVID-19, but catching COVID-19 for a third time is still no walk in the park, as Linda Geddes discovered last week.

Is sneezing a symptom of COVID Delta? ›

What are Some of the Common Symptoms of COVID-19? Sneezing more than usual can be a sign of COVID-19 in people who've been vaccinated, but typically not in those who are unvaccinated.

Is diarrhea a symptom of Omicron COVID? ›

COVID-19 might cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea — either alone or with other COVID-19 symptoms. Digestive symptoms sometimes develop before a fever and respiratory symptoms.

How long does it take for mild COVID symptoms to go away? ›

At-home treatment

Most people who become sick with COVID-19 will only have mild illness and can get better at home. Symptoms might last a few days. People who have the virus might feel better in about a week.

How long do Omicron symptoms last? ›

How long do omicron symptoms last? Most people who test positive with any variant of COVID-19 typically experience some symptoms for a couple weeks.

How long are you contagious Omicron? ›

We know that people tend to be most infectious early in the course of their infection. With Omicron, most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.

What is the incubation period for Omicron? ›

A study conducted during high levels of Delta variant transmission reported an incubation period of 4.3 days,(2) and studies performed during high levels of Omicron variant transmission reported a median incubation period of 3–4 days.

What are the early signs of detection of the coronavirus? ›

Possible symptoms include:
  • Fever or chills.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Sore throat.

Does Omicron start with a headache? ›

Severe headaches are one of the first symptoms of Omicron, even more common than coughing, fever, and tiredness. However, headaches can be a symptom of many other diseases.

Does COVID start with a sore throat? ›

Yes, one of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 is a sore throat. Other common symptoms include fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache and sudden loss of taste or smell.

How long test positive COVID Omicron? ›

During the Omicron BA. 1 period, 80.2% of symptomatic persons with COVID-19 returning for repeated testing were RAT–positive after 5 days, and 34.9% were still positive after 10 days, regardless of vaccine status.

What does your throat feel like with COVID? ›

Well, it can feel exactly the same as a cold, according to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare. That makes it hard to tell the difference between a cold and a mild case of COVID. It's even harder to tell the difference knowing that sore throat is a COVID symptom.

What does COVID headache feel like? ›

Researchers have discovered that some of the prominent features of a COVID-19 headache include: Having a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation. Occurring bilaterally (across the whole head) Presenting with severe pressure that won't respond to typical pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Can you have COVID with no cough? ›

The disease is quite variable, and everyone is different. Many people who are infected have more mild symptoms like a scratchy throat, stuffy or runny nose, occasional mild cough, fatigue, and no fever. Some people have no symptoms at all, but they can still spread the disease.”

How do you treat Omicron at home? ›

Take proper rest and treat the mild symptoms at home and be in a strict self-quarantine for 7 days to avoid further spread. Currently, there are no specific drugs and medication are available to prevent or treat Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Does COVID get better after 5 days? ›

If you test positive for COVID-19 and have no symptoms – you may end after day 5. If you test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms – you may end after day 5 if: You are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) Your symptoms are improving.

Is Omicron a milder? ›

Early studies suggested Omicron appears to be milder than previous strains, although some experts have attributed this to the fact that many more people were vaccinated, and some had immunity from infection.

How do you tell if it's Covid or a cold? ›

Symptom check: Is it COVID-19 or a cold?
SymptomCOVID-19Cold
FeverUsuallySometimes
DiarrheaSometimesNever
Nausea or vomitingSometimesNever
New loss of taste or smellUsually (early — often without a runny or stuffy nose)Sometimes (especially with a stuffy nose)
7 more rows
14 Oct 2022

What does a Covid cough feel like? ›

A common symptom of COVID-19 is a dry cough, which is also known as an unproductive cough (a cough that doesn't produce any phlegm or mucus). Most people with dry cough experience it as a tickle in their throat or as irritation in their lungs.

Can you have Covid and test negative? ›

A negative result means it's likely you are not infectious. But a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19 and there's still a chance you may be infectious. You should follow advice on how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

Are you still contagious after 5 days? ›

People are most contagious with COVID-19 during the first 5 days of their illness. Many people don't have any symptoms during the first 2 to 3 days of their illness. This is why COVID-19 outbreaks are so hard to contain. On average, people are contagious for 5 to 10 days.

Can you test negative for Covid after 3 days? ›

If you were exposed to COVID-19 and do not have symptoms, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before testing. If you test too early, you may be more likely to get an inaccurate result. If you are in certain high-risk settings, you may need to test as part of a screening testing program.

Can you get Covid twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

Videos

1. People with omicron are reporting a strange new covid symptom | The Why
(KHOU 11)
2. Unique symptoms associated with the omicron variant
(CBS 8 San Diego)
3. Omicron variant: How can I tell if my symptoms are COVID, flu or common cold?
(FOX 11 Los Angeles)
4. COVID-19: What do we know about the severity of Omicron infections?
(CBC News: The National)
5. What to know about omicron
(Eyewitness News ABC7NY)
6. Doctors explain 5 reasons why omicron's BA.5 will be the 'worst' subvariant yet
(ABC7 News Bay Area)
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