Most Common U.K. COVID Variant Symptoms Revealed in Survey

Symptoms such as cough, fatigue, muscle ache and sore throat appear to be more common in people who test positive for the B.1.1.7 COVID variant compared to other versions of the virus, a survey conducted in the U.K. has found.

The survey, which was published by the U.K. Office for National Statistics (ONS), also found that participants were slightly less likely to report a loss of taste or smell.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the U.K. toward the end of last year and has now been found in several countries around the world, as well as more than 20 U.S. states.

Scientists say the new variant is around 50 to 70 percent more infectious than the original. Some evidence has also emerged recently to suggest that the variant may be linked to higher mortality, although the data to support this hypothesis is not yet strong.

The survey involved responses from a random sample of 6,000 people in England between November 15, 2020, and January 16, 2021.

Researchers asked individuals whether they had experienced a range of possible symptoms in the seven days before they were tested, and also whether they felt they had experienced symptoms compatible with COVID-19 in the last seven days.

The researchers categorized the symptoms into the following groups:

  • Any: all reported symptoms, including reporting symptoms compatible with COVID-19 whilst not naming specific symptoms
  • Classic: cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste or loss of smell
  • Gastrointestinal: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Loss of taste or smell only

The survey found that the largest differences in reported symptoms with people who had tested positive with the new variant compared to others were seen in the frequency of cough, sore throat, fatigue and muscle pain.

"People testing positive compatible with the new U.K. variant were more likely to report any symptoms and the classic symptoms," the authors of the study wrote.

However, they were slightly less likely to report loss of taste and smell, and there was no evidence of difference in the percentages reporting gastrointestinal symptoms, shortness of breath or headaches.

Among the people who tested for the new variant, 35 percent reported a cough, 32 percent said they had fatigue, 25 percent reported muscle aches and pains and 21.8 percent said they experienced a sore throat.

Among the people who tested positive for other variants, 28 percent reported a cough, 29 percent said they had fatigue, 21 percent reported muscle aches and pains and 19 percent said they experienced a sore throat.

Around 16 percent of people infected with the new variant said they had experienced a loss of taste, while 15 percent reported a loss of smell. This is slightly less than people infected with older variants, 18 percent of whom reported a loss of smell and loss of taste.

The researchers say the results are provisional and subject to revision. In addition, it should be noted that the results were self-reported and not diagnosed by professionals.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, England, said in a statement that genetic mutations in the B.1.1.7 variant could have an impact on the symptoms associated with COVID-19 infections, in theory.

"This variant is more transmissible and infected individuals appear to have higher virus loads which means they produce more virus. This could result in more widespread infection within the body perhaps accounting for more coughs, muscle pain and tiredness," he said.

"The virus has 23 changes compared to the original. Some of these changes in different parts of the virus could affect the body's immune response and also influence the range of symptoms associated with infection."

Testing for the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant
Palettes for test samples are pictured as researchers screen and analyze positive coronavirus samples for the B.1.1.7 variant in Aalborg, Denmark on January 15, 2021. HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images