The Omicron variant has quickly taken over the world, resulting in rising COVID cases, breakthrough infections, and reinfections. This new version of the virus has already pushed the U.S. to report more than one million new daily COVID cases on Jan. 3, and virus experts expect its surge to continue throughout the month, if not longer. More than 95 percent of cases in the country are estimated to be caused by Omicron, and every time the virus evolves, so can the illness it produces. According to experts, there are two new COVID symptoms the Omicron variant might cause that haven’t been commonly associated with the virus before. Read on to find out what surprising COVID signs you should be looking out for now.
If you wake up with an upset stomach, don’t dismiss it. The UK-based Zoe COVID app recently updated its list of common Omicron symptoms to include nausea and loss of appetite, the Daily Express reported. While gastrointestinal symptoms were anecdotally associated with previous variants of the virus, they were never seen as common or standalone symptoms.
“One of my patients … got admitted with a complaint of loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. As per protocol, we conducted RT-PCR, and it came positive,” Sanket Jain, a pulmonologist consultant at Masina Hospital in India, told the news outlet. “Such symptoms are commonly being observed nowadays especially in infections of Omicron.”
Milder gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite might be indicative of a milder COVID case, which seems to be more common with breakthrough Omicron. Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and head of the ZOE COVID Study App, said in a YouTube video that these two gastrointestinal symptoms appear more likely in infections among fully vaccinated and boosted individuals.
“Some of them had nausea (and therefore loss of appetite), slight temperature, sore throat, and headache,” Spector said, referencing an outbreak within a group that had all gotten two or three shots.
Of course, people with Omicron will also likely have some typical cold-like COVID symptoms. Robert Goldszer, MD, the chief medical officer for the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Florida, recently told WSVN-TV that many people infected with the new variant tend to think they just have a cold, as most patients are reporting sore throat, headache, and fever.
According to Goldszer, there are some clear divides between cold symptoms and COVID symptoms. “A couple differences would be, I think, significant fever with COVID. People are having more fever a day or two, and obviously, if you get significant lung symptoms, if you get bad coughing for a long period of time, any kind of shortness of breath, those things are uncommon with the common cold,” he explained.
Don’t wait for certain telltale COVID symptoms to pop up before you get tested: Virus experts recently warned that the Omicron variant might be less likely than previous variants to cause a loss of taste or smell for infected individuals. Prior research has suggested that nearly 48 percent patients with the original strain of COVID had loss of smell and 41 percent had loss of taste. But a small analysis of an Omicron outbreak among vaccinated people in Norway found that only 23 percent reported loss of taste and just 12 percent reported loss of smell.
Andrew Pekosz, PhD, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times that people with Omicron might be more likely to report symptoms like nausea because loss of smell is less prevalent, so it’s easier to pay attention to milder symptoms.