© Robert Kneschke

A sore throat and hoarse voice were the main COVID-19 symptoms with newer variants – but have symptoms changed as variants get smarter?

Research finds that the main COVID-19 symptoms of the Omicron variant have changed from symptoms that were common at the start of the pandemic.

While people with the Omicron variant most commonly report sore throat and a hoarse voice, these same symptoms were not as prevalent in Delta cases – which was true for both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

Additionally, those who contracted Omicron were less likely to be hospitalised compared to those with the Delta variant, as symptoms lasted for shorter periods – an average of 6.87 days, compared to 8.89 days.

Researchers now suggest that Omicron may be less severe than the Delta variant.

What are the common symptoms of COVID-19 variants?

Former prevalent COVID-19 variants, such as Delta, have frequently caused people to lose their sense of smell, appearing in less than 20% of cases and often days after the first symptoms began.

Other serious symptoms that used to be prevalent – like fever, headaches, brain fog and eye soreness – are less prevalent in Omicron cases, but they can still occur.

The Omicron subvariant was more prevalent at the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, labelled BA.1. There are now other Omicron subvariants, labelled BA.4 and BA.5 that also appear to be causing a loss of sense of smell or taste again, and may be more severe if contracted.

Imperial College London also found that there was lower reporting of loss of sense of smell and taste for the Omicron variant. However, the study which is yet to be peer-reviewed, found there was higher reporting of cold-like and influenza-like symptoms.

Omicron is most notably known for its 5 main symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Mild or severe fatigue
  • Sneezing (if vaccinated)
  • Sore throat

Whereas Delta, the previous variant which dominated COVID-19 cases, was better known for:

  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Persistent cough
  • High temperatures
  • Sneezing (regardless of vaccination status)

Delta has been known to be more transmissible (easily passed on), more severe, and unfortunately, less affected by vaccines. Most new infections are in younger people, who are often healthier, which makes it hard to understand whether it is more dangerous than other variants.

woman feeling very ill, possibly with a covid variant
© Martinmark

Omicron symptoms do not last as long in vaccinated people

A study, using data from REACT-1, collected 62,002 positive tests and looked at those patients’ symptoms, and found a difference in the length and types of symptoms between the two variants.

Where Omicron is found far less frequently in the lower respiratory tract, they found that this is where infection can cause more severe symptoms, potentially sending people to the hospital.

However, Delta is better at infecting lung cells than Omicron, the study found. So while Omicron appears to be much more transmissible than previous variants, this variant affects fewer organs than Delta.

While it is believed that newer variants like Omicron are milder, it must be noted that Omicron subvariant BA.2 was associated with reporting more symptoms, with greater disruption to daily activities, than the Omicron subvariant BA.1 – and these subvariants are becoming more common as fewer people get vaccinated.

Coronavirus infections are surging as the virus is becoming “too clever”

With figures suggesting nearly three million people in the UK are still unvaccinated, some researchers suggest the virus becoming too smart for our vaccines to keep up.

As the most obvious symptoms are starting to decrease, the virus is constantly mutating into ways we may not be able to catch up with in time.

The world health organisation says “COVID is getting smarter”

As of July 2022, it is estimated that over 1 in 25 UK people currently have COVID-19. Some of the mutants can keep functioning as infectious viruses – but aren’t as easily recognised by antibodies anymore.

With almost three million people in the UK still being unvaccinated, variants can mutate and generate from those who have already built up antibodies. This marks the extreme need for health services to persist in vaccine uptake across the country, to protect people and the NHS.


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