The Omicron Symptoms That You Need To Know


By Korin Miller

Cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant continue to sweep across the country. As of the latest data, the variant has been detected in 31 states—and it was only named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) late last month.

People have plenty of questions about this newly-detected strain of COVID-19, including the symptoms of Omicron, how Delta differs from Omicron, how deadly the Omicron variant is and whether current COVID-19 tests will detect Omicron.

It’s important to point out that there’s still a lot that scientists around the world are learning about this variant—the WHO was only alerted to its existence about a month ago, after all. That said, doctors and public health officials around the world are concerned, keeping a close eye on this variant, and making swift decisions on COVID-19 mitigation measures because of it—and identifying common Omicron variant symptoms along the way.

Information and data is slowly trickling in about Omicron—and it's appearing to be slightly different from the variant’s predecessors. While you may have heard that Omicron symptoms are mild, doctors say that’s not necessarily the full story.

Here’s what you need to know about Omicron symptoms, and how to tell them apart from “regular” COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of Omicron?

Again, research on Omicron is new and ongoing, but there has been some data that suggests this variant may have different symptoms than previous strains.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from 43 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. caused by Omicron and found that patients generally had these symptoms:




-Runny nose

One doctor who has treated Omicron patients in South Africa said that people infected with the variant early on had “extremely mild symptoms.”

“It actually started with a male patient who’s around the age of 33 ... and he said to me that he’s just [been] extremely tired for the past few days and he’s got these body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” Angelique Coetzee, M.D., chair of the South African Medical Association, said. The patient had a “scratchy throat” (but no cough or loss of taste or smell)—and he tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Coetzee said she had more patients with similar symptoms later that day.

By comparison, these are the most common symptoms of COVID-19 per the CDC:

-Fever or chills


-Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing


-Muscle or body aches


-New loss of taste or smell

-Sore throat

-Congestion or runny nose

-Nausea or vomiting


Here’s a big caveat that experts are stressing: The patients that Dr. Coetzee referred to were young and otherwise healthy—people who typically have more mild cases of COVID-19 to begin with. The majority of the Omicron patients in the CDC study (79%) were also fully vaccinated. “Those individuals already tend to have milder infections,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This does not allow us to conclude that this virus would cause similar symptoms or be ‘mild’ in people with underlying illnesses or those who are older,” he says.

Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees. “It’s too hard to tell what the symptoms will be,” he says. “We may see differences in symptoms with people who are vaccinated and not, and those with prior infection, though.”

“I haven't heard a lot on people losing their sense of taste and smell with Omicron, but I’m willing to bet that this variant can do that, cause shortness of breath, and all of the other symptoms of COVID-19, particularly in the unvaccinated,” Dr. Russo says. “We just don’t have a lot of data yet.”

Dr. Russo says he’s concerned about talk of Omicron being a mild infection, when the majority of cases have been in people who are vaccinated or younger. “I’m really worried about people becoming complacent,” he says. “If Omicron ends up causing more infections, it will likely cause more damage. We could be setting ourselves up for a bad situation.”

What is Omicron’s incubation period?

An incubation period is the amount of time between when you’re infected with an illness and when you start to show symptoms, per the CDC.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is from two to 14 days, with a median time of four to five days, the CDC says. There hasn’t been exact data on Omicron’s incubation period, but Dr. Schaffner says it’s possible that Omicron’s incubation period is shorter than that of other COVID-19 variants. “Omicron may have a shorter incubation period so that the spread from one person to others happens more rapidly,” Dr. Schaffner says. That, he says, may help explain why it’s spreading so quickly around the world.

Overall, though, doctors stress that scientists are still gathering data about Omicron. “There are a number of curveballs out there with Omicron, and we’re still learning about this variant,” Dr. Schaffner says.

Does Omicron spread faster than other variants?

The multiple mutations in its spike protein are definitely concerning, says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. “That suggests that Omicron may be more infectious than other variants,” he says.

Omicron has also been “detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” the WHO says. Case in point: Omicron is rapidly taking over in London, where it’s expected to be the dominant strain of COVID-19 within days, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a press conference on Monday.

As of late last week, nearly 1,000 Omicron cases were reported by 57 countries in different regions of the world, according to the WHO.


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