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As covid infections rise across the UK for the first time in two months, many want to know the symptoms of Omicron and how long you're contagious with it.
Omicron - it's officially the most infectious strain of the virus we've ever seen. And as much as we'd like it to, signs show it's not completely going away any time soon. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed in the week ending June 10 that covid cases in England were up 1.46% - with Omicron variants behind these increased infections.
Medical professionals have claimed that symptoms differ from the Delta variant covid symptoms (opens in new tab). Making it even more important for people to recognise and understand what Omicron symptoms are. Whilst the UK government's new Living with Covid plan (opens in new tab) has scrapped self-isolation rules, healthcare experts are encouraging people to still isolate as a duty of care for others. This means not sending your kid to school if they have Covid (opens in new tab) and working from home to prevent passing it on.
What are the symptoms of Omicron covid variant?
Patients who have tested positive for Omicron have reported symptoms of fatigue, a scratchy throat, runny nose, headache, and sneezing. According to the ZOE symptom tracker app, people have also reported symptoms which aren't usually associated with coronavirus, including diarrhoea, loss of appetite and nausea.
Dr Tim Spector - who has headed up the ZOE study - stated that people should look out for "most cold symptoms" which are likely to be Omicron symptoms. This was based on data recently logged in March 2022. It showed that 300,000 covid cases were being registered each day - most of them of the Omicron strain.
Omicron was first recognised as a strain in November 2021. And Dr Angelique Coetzee, a GP and chair of the South African Medical Association (opens in new tab) was the first to detect it. She told BBC's Andrew Marr (opens in new tab) that cases examined felt "extremely tired" and had "body aches and pains with a bit of a headache".
She also noted how symptoms of Omicron differed from previous recognisable covid symptoms. With subjects reporting "not really a sore throat, more of a scratchy type of description and no cough or no loss of smell and taste."
This certainly supports data from the Office of National Statistics (opens in new tab) recorded throughout December 2021. The found that those presenting with Omicron symptoms were less likely to report loss of taste and smell than patients with Delta symptons.
Dr Coetzee added that cases presented "very very mild symptoms". And this certainly supports what Peter McGinn described to CNN (opens in new tab). He was the first American to test positive with the Omicron variant: "It honestly felt like a mild cold for about a day," he said. "I had light fatigue, a runny nose and a sore throat. And after a day those symptoms went away."
Here's more details on what Omicron symptoms you should look out for:
A study in the Journal of Headaches and Pains (opens in new tab) looked into Covid-related headaches. And researchers found they tended to last for three days plus, with moderate to severe pain reported on both sides of the head. Participants said their headaches had a "pulsing" "pressing" or "stabbing" quality to them. And that the headache did not clear up when painkillers were taken.
As for headaches being a Covid symptom, health professionals of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study gave a few possible reasonings:
"It may be the virus directly affecting the brain. Or it could be related to being ill, such as dehydration or hunger caused by not eating and drinking normally."
Read our advice on how to get rid of a headache fast (opens in new tab) if you are currently suffering.
A Netherlands study (opens in new tab) determined fatigue is "highly prevalent" in long Covid cases. Researchers described it as severe with patients showing "both physical and mental fatigue".
Mental fatigue is a medical condition that is defined as when someone feels tired (opens in new tab) and emotionally exhausted. They may find themselves less productive and experiencing poor cognitive function like not being able to concentrate or stay focused on tasks.
Meanwhile, physical fatigue affects the general body. "A person with physical fatigue may find it physically hard to do the things they usually do, such as climbing the stairs," says Medical News Today (opens in new tab). "Symptoms include muscle weakness, and diagnosis may involve completing a strength test.
3. Other body aches and pains
Various complaints of pain were reported in one Indonesian study (opens in new tab) looking into Covid patients. Researchers cited muscular pain, in addition to "joint pain, stomach pain, and testicular pain".
Indeed those using the Zoe Covid app reported aches (opens in new tab) and pains especially in their shoulders and legs. "This muscle pain stops them from doing day-to-day tasks," they added.
4. Sore or 'Scratchy' throat
Figures from an Egyptian study (opens in new tab) suggest a sore throat as a common byproduct of the covid infection. Researchers examined 120 people with COVID-19 and reported that 30% of them reported a sore throat.
Data from the Zoe COVID app also found that sore throats were commonly reported in adults aged between 18-65, rather than elderly patients. It tended to be a mild symptom that tended not to last more than 5 days.
Another study (opens in new tab) - published April 2022 - additionally deemed that a sore throat was a more common symptom with the Omicron strain than with Delta.
South African Dr Angelique Coetzee, who discovered the Omicron variant has spoken a lot about patients with this strain experiencing more of "a scratchy throat". This is likely to be irritable and painful when you swallow.
Check out our sore throat remedies (opens in new tab) if you are currently experiencing pain.
5. Runny nose
A runny nose is considered a covid symptom when you experience it alongside other identified covid symptoms.
For example, the Zoe COVID Study (opens in new tab) reports that "nearly 60% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 with loss of smell also reported having a runny nose."
A runny nose is also a common factor associated with allergies like Hay fever (opens in new tab) plus colds and the seasonal flu.
"A runny nose and headache are symptoms of many infections, but may also be the first symptoms – and only symptoms – of Covid," explains Professor Irene Petersen, an epidemiology and health professor at University College London (opens in new tab). "Therefore, if you have these symptoms, I’d encourage you to use lateral flow tests for a couple of days."
The scientists at ZOE Covid study (opens in new tab) have stated that whilst "sneezing is not normally a symptom of COVID-19," they have seen data to suggest that increased sneezing in vaccinated people can be a sign you're infected.
"Interestingly, our data shows that people who had been vaccinated and then tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to report sneezing as a symptom compared with those without a jab," they said. "This suggests that sneezing a lot with no explanation after you’ve been vaccinated could be a sign of COVID-19."
Whilst they have found a connection between the two they are careful to remind people that "the link between sneezing and COVID-19 isn’t very strong." If sneezing is your only symptom, be sure to do a lateral test to rule anything out. Though in most cases it is likely to be a cold or allergy instead.
Is sickness a symptom of Omicron?
Yes sickness could be a symptom of Omicron. Several medical professionals have shared that nausea has been reported by Covid positive patients. Though vomiting on it's own is not likely to be a covid symptom. But rather something like food poisoning. If worried, it's always good to do a lateral flow test to rule out the possibility.
Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London stated that those who were double vaxxed and had Covid registered feeling sick alongside other more known Omicron symptoms.
"Quite a few of them had nausea, slight temperature, sore throats and headaches," he said. And in some cases this nausea turned to vomiting."
"It’s true that nausea and vomiting are potential symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2," adds Tufts Medical Centre, in a statement on their blog (opens in new tab).
This is further supported by The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). They observed that some Covid-positive patients developed gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. And these were often before the more familiar symptoms of cough, high fever and shortness of breath.
If you are experiencing vomiting or nausea alongside Omicron symptoms like fatigue, coughing, headache sore throat and a runny nose then do a lateral flow immediately. However, if you're just feeling sick, it's more likely to be nothign to do with Covid. And more likely a bug or side effects of poor food consumption or pregnancy.
How long are you contagious with Omicron?
The UK government have stated that people with Covid - including the Omicron strain - can be infectious for up to 12 days. And during this time it's likely you'll still show up as positive on lateral flow tests.
"People who have COVID-19 can infect others from around 2 days before symptoms start, and for up to 10 days after," reads the government website (opens in new tab). "They can pass the infection to others, even if they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, which is why they must stay at home."
It's worth noting that this 12-day infectious period is a general pre-caution as everyone's experience with the virus is different. Self-isolation rules changed (opens in new tab) in December to reflect this, as those who test negative on lateral flow tests (opens in new tab) after 7 days are no longer considered infectious.
Furthermore, new data reveals that the Omicron variant may carry a shorter infectious period than other strains.
"Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than the Delta variant (opens in new tab)," UK health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on 6 December.
This certainly supports a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in new tab) (CDC) which found that it took just three 3 days for people to show symptoms after being infected with Omicron. And according to scientists, it makes sense for the incubation period of Omicron infections to be shorter seeing as it's more contagious.
"That's why the spread is occurring at a much faster pace," said Dr. Anita Gupta, an anesthesiologist and critical care physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Whilst the government has since scrapped all official Covid rules, people are still choosing to isolate for at least a week if still positive with Omicron. Just to be safe.
Does Omicron show up on lateral flow and PCR tests?
Yes those who have the Omicron variant will test positive on both lateral flow and PCR tests. It is important to know that unlike PCR tests, lateral flow tests will not be able to tell you if you specifically have Omicron. They simply show whether you have a Covid infection or not.
"PCR tests can detect those infected with the Omicron variant," reads a statement on the UK Parliament website (opens in new tab). "It is likely that lateral flow tests will detect infections caused by Omicron; research is underway to verify this."
Indeed, scientists at Goethe University’s Institute of Medical Virology (opens in new tab) in Frankfurt have said that lateral flow tests produced by three major companies have detected Omicron in samples. And this includes ACON's Flowflex test - the main provider of NHS Test and Trace's nose-only lateral flow tests.
This, according to Professor Christina Pagel, director of University College London’s Clinical Operational Research Unit is "good news".
The reason PCR tests can detect Omicron is to do with a mutated gene in their biological make-up.
"As Omicron has a mutation here, that means that this part of the PCR test will fail. This is called S-gene drop-out or target failure," continues the statement on Parliament.uk. "While not 100 percent accurate, it can be used as a proxy method for tracking the variant, especially if other dominant circulating variants are S-gene positive, as the Delta variant is."
If you are experiencing symptoms and are in doubt, always take a PCR test.
Can you get Omicron twice?
Yes it's certainly possible to get Omicron twice. And there have been cases worldwide where patients have tested positive with covid twice (opens in new tab) from this strain. One study also reported that Omicron reinfection is more likely than with the Delta variant.
Stanley Weiss, M.D., is a professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the Department of Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health. He told Yahoo (opens in new tab): "Yes, you can get Omicron twice." This was based on his recent visit to a lecture with a top virologist in South Africa. And here it was reported that doctors had found cases where several people had been reinfected with Omicron.
A December 2021 study from Imperial College London (opens in new tab) additionally supports the stance that you can get Omicron twice. With researchers finding that "the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is 5.4 times greater than that of the Delta variant."
There is some good news though, courtesy of Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme (opens in new tab).
In a live Q&A broadcast (opens in new tab) he explained that covid infection is diagnosed from the nose, essentially making it an infection of the mucus lining. And this is significant:
"You can have a re-infection and you can probably find the virus in your nose," he said. "But you're not sick because your immune system inside your body, in effect, is mounting an immune response and able to cope with that infection. So reinfection does not automatically mean severe disease."
What's more, America's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (opens in new tab) have stated that those who have had Covid previously have a "low risk of subsequent infection" for at least six months. This means it would be rare for someone whose recently tested positive to get Omicron again within six months.
Can I get Omicron if I've had Covid before?
Yes, research suggests that those who tested positive with Covid of a different strain can still catch the Omicron variant. Households with children in school and healthcare workers are amongst the two groups most likely for this to occur.
The findings were reported by React (opens in new tab) - a UK-wide study by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI. And it reported that as many as two thirds of people recelty infected with Omicron had Covid previously.
Further analysis unveiled that groups who were susceptible to this tended to be households with kids. Plus people that have a lot of family members. NHS workers were also highlighted as at risk of reinfection.
Is Omicron milder than Delta?
Yes, current research has reported that Omicron is milder than the Delta variant. And these studies suggest that hospitalisation is less likely with Omicron compared to previous strains of the virus. Nevertheless Omicron related deaths have been reported globally and so it shouldn't be underestimated even though it's 'milder'.
A report by the UK Health Security Agency (opens in new tab) found that those who tested positive with the Omicron variant were about 50% less likely to be hospitalised than those with the Delta variant. This was based on an analysis of both Omicron and Delta cases between 22 November and 26 December.
This report re-affirms a Scottish study (opens in new tab) which also evaluated the severity of Omicron based on national data. Scientists at Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities concluded that "Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta."
A similar verdict was recorded in Imperial College London's Omicron report released in December. Researchers involved confirmed that those with Omicron symptoms where 11% less likely to turn up at A&E - compared to those infected with the Delta variant.
There's further good news too - with research suggesting that Omicron symptoms clear up faster than Delta symptoms. In a new study published by The Lancet (opens in new tab), participants with the Omicron strain reported their symptoms as lasting two days shorter than those with the Delta variant.
Has anyone died from the Omicron variant?
The UK Health Security Agency have reported a total of 75 Omicron related deaths in the United Kingdom. These fatalities were recorded in the government agency's last recorded Omicron daily overview report (opens in new tab) on 30 December 2021. They have since seized to report on Omicron related deaths. And are now instead returning to reporting the daily coronavirus death count.
Elsewhere in the world, there has been Omicron-related deaths in Germany and India. And America reported their first Omicron death in late December - an unvaccinated man in the state of Texas.
The first UK recorded Omicron related death was reported by the Prime Minister on 13 December 2021.
Boris Johnson shared the sad news during a visit to a vaccination clinic in West London:
"Sadly yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron."
This was based on data from the UK Health Security Agency. Who said the individual who died from Omicron was diagnosed in hospital.
Britain's Omicron deaths have contributed to the UK's total Coronavirus death count which now exceeds 160,000. According to figures from Our World in Data (opens in new tab), this rate is 7% higher than the European Union average.
Death from Omicron seems less likely than previous strains according to new data. A South African study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases (opens in new tab) found that patient deaths from Omicron averaged 4.5% during the country's recent surge. And this is much lower than the 21.3% recorded from previous strains.
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Emily Stedman is the News Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things royal, entertainment, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things celebrity and royal, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.
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