What We Know About Omicron COVID Variant Symptoms As CDC, WHO Release Updates

Symptoms of the COVID Omicron variant may be cold-like, according to a U.K. health expert. His comments came following updates on the variant from health agencies including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant has spread rapidly around the world since it was discovered last month, and scientists are working to understand how dangerous it is. On Monday, the first known death related to Omicron was confirmed in the U.K.

Early data suggests that Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which managed to outcompete previous variants around the world. It is not yet certain whether Omicron's rapid growth rate is due to resistance to immunity, inherent increased transmissibility, or a combination of both, the WHO said on December 10.

Some data on symptoms caused by the Omicron variant has emerged from countries such as the U.K. and South Africa.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Tim Spector, a scientist behind the U.K.'s Zoe coronavirus symptoms app, said that "things like fever, cough and loss of smell are now in the minority of symptoms we are seeing" and added that some symptoms of Omicron appeared to be similar to the common cold, urging people with cold symptoms to get tested.

In addition, some early data on symptoms were released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 10.

The health agency noted that the most commonly reported Omicron symptoms were cough, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose.

A smaller number of patients reported symptoms such as fever, nausea, and a loss of taste and smell.

This was based on data from 43 Omicron cases reported between December 1 and December 8. Of these, one vaccinated patient was hospitalized for two days, and no deaths had been reported up to that date, the CDC said.

The majority of these cases, 79 percent, occurred in people who had had their first round of COVID vaccines at least 14 days before they fell ill or tested positive, including 14 who had received an additional or booster dose.

At the same time, Mbulelo Cabuko, director of the National Health Information System in South Africa, told Newsweek on December 8: "The symptoms associated with the Omicron variant are very similar to those with previous SARS-CoV-2 [COVID] variants, including fever, body aches (myalgia), cough and shortness of breath in more severe disease.

"We are still evaluating the severity of the cases caused by the new variant and should have this information in the coming week or two."

On December 10, the WHO reported that preliminary findings from South Africa suggested that Omicron might be less severe than Delta in terms of disease, but it said that this was still unclear and more data is needed.

A U.K. government report on Omicron from December 10 noted that "it is not possible to compare the risk of hospitalization or death with other variants."

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) stated on December 12, based on EU cases: "All cases for which there is available information on severity were either asymptomatic or mild. There have been no Omicron-related deaths reported thus far."

Omicron is spreading more rapidly in some countries than others based on reported cases. According to a technical report from the U.K. government, the proportion of Omicron cases in the country is expected to be equal to that of Delta in a matter of days if it continues to spread at its present rate.

In the U.S. Delta still accounted for 99.9 percent of COVID cases in the week leading up to December 4, CDC data shows.

15/12/2021, 11:55 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include a new comment from Tim Spector and remove a section of the intro that stated that Omicron symptoms were similar to previous variants.

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A stock image showing a woman blowing her nose. A runny nose has been reported in some Omicron patients. Getty Images