‘Stealth Omicron’ symptoms: Are the signs of the new variant different to existing Covid?

Coronavirus: GP says "Omicron is beating the booster."

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Omicron has raised Covid alarm bells once again, with a new sub-variant emerging around the world. While there are three known sub-strains of Omicron, one is outpacing the others at a rapid rate, earning its title as ‘Stealth Omicron’. Officially known as the BA.2 strain, what are the common symptoms – and how do they differ from the current dominant variant?

Coronavirus symptoms are often likened to the common cold, making this deadly virus even harder to identify before testing.

Spotting the difference between a harmless case of the sniffles and a Covid infection has become increasingly difficult with the latest Omicron variant.

In most cases, the strain has caused generic, manageable symptoms thanks to global vaccination efforts and the seemingly mild nature of Omicron itself.

The latest sub-variant (BA.2) is even harder to detect through testing because it doesn’t have the spike gene which is found in the original BA.1 variant.

Vague symptoms coupled with tough testing have earned the latest Omicron mutation its ‘stealth’ nickname – but just how different is it to the original strain?

What are the symptoms of ‘Stealth Omicron’?

While Omicron is more transmissible than the delta strain, the latest mutation is thought to spread even faster than the UK’s dominant variant, BA.1.

Tom Peacock, virologist from the Imperial College of London tweeted: “Consistent growth across multiple countries is evidence BA.2 may be some degree more transmissible than BA.1”

Despite its rapid movement across the globe, ‘Stealth Omicron’ seems to be equally as mild as the original BA.1 variant, with no new symptoms having been reported.

Common symptoms of Omicron include:

  • A runny nose
  • Headache
  • Mild or severe fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat

Professor Irene Petersen, a professor of epidemiology and health informatics at University College London, said: “A runny nose and headache are symptoms of many infections, but may also be the first symptoms – and only symptoms – of Covid.

“Therefore, if you have these symptoms, I’d encourage you to use lateral flow tests for a couple of days.”

The ZOE Covid symptom study found Covid headaches are often one of the earliest signs and are different to the average headache.

According to the findings, headaches caused by COVID-19 are often moderately to severely painful and can mimic a pulsing, pressing or stabbing motion across the head.

If you are experiencing a headache which lasts for more than three days and is resistant to standard painkillers, you should take a lateral flow test to be sure.

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How have Covid symptoms changed?

At the start of the pandemic, the main symptoms of coronavirus consisted of a fever, a new or continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste.

Since March 2020, a host of new variants have seen the most reported symptoms change to mirror those of the common cold or flu.

Analysis of symptoms reported through the ZOE Covid study app found that just 50 percent of people now experience the classic three symptoms of fever, cough and loss of sense of smell or taste.

Since Omicron became the UK’s dominant variant in late 2021, the loss of smell and taste has become even rarer with just one in five people experiencing it.

How prominent is the BA.2 variant in the UK?

The UK Health Security Agency has announced that while the BA.2 variant is under investigation, cases remain low across the nation.

Just 53 samples of the Omicron sub-variant have been detected in the UK, though cases are rising rapidly elsewhere.

BA.2 accounts for nearly half (45 percent) of all Covid cases in Denmark alone, according to Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut (SSI).

Work is ongoing to see if the new strain responds to the existing COVID-19 vaccinations, though current analysis has shown that hospitalisations remain unaffected by BA.2, says the SSI.

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