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Omicron Symptoms Most Commonly Appear Like This

Here’s what the Omicron variant looks like, according to doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The Omicron BA.2 subvariant is causing a surge of infections in the U.K., Europe, and Asia—but how is it different from previous COVID-19 variants? "Omicron has 50 mutations in its genetic code, many more than we have seen on any other variant," says infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD. "Thirty of these mutations affect the spike protein, which the vaccines currently available utilize… New variants will continue to develop as long as the virus can make copies of itself and spread. We need to be smarter than the virus and stop it with vaccines, social distancing, masking and proper hand hygiene." Here are the most common symptoms of the Omicron variant. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Runny Nose, Sneezing, Sore Throat and More

Young sick woman laying in her bed.

Omicron symptoms overlap with typical cold symptoms, so it's very important to get tested if you have cold-like symptoms. "The most reported symptoms of Omicron are really very much like a cold, especially in people who have been vaccinated," says Dr. Claire Steves of King's College London. "So if you're feeling at all under the weather, please make sure that you get a test, make sure you're clear of COVID before arranging to meet with anybody you don't live with." Also: "Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

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

COVID-19 Is Here To Stay

Friendly nurse preps patient prior to COVID-19 vaccine shot.

While Omicron is less serious than the Delta variant, doctors believe COVID-19 will never completely be eradicated. "We don't know and probably we'll never know what's going to happen, it's not like we have a source of viral variants that we can just monitor and see what's coming," says Jacob Lemieux, M.D., Ph.D. "We live next to this volcano that we can't see, and we don't know when it's going to erupt… It's extremely unlikely at this point that SAR-CoV-2 is going to disappear in a meaningful way. That ship has sailed."


Is It Safe To Return to Business As Usual?

Woman in mask and red coat in the subway.

Pandemic restrictions are being lifted across the U.S., but doctors are still worried about the impact of Omicron and other variants. "I encourage people to hang on just a little bit longer,"  says Richelle Charles, HMS associate professor of medicine at Mass General. "Consider activities you could do where a little mitigation, like wearing a mask, wouldn't really take away from the activity. Take a rapid test before going to a small gathering. (These tests need to be free and much more accessible.) Ask yourself whether you can hang on just a couple more months before doing other activities where this kind of mitigation isn't possible. Outpatient therapeutics are on the short-term horizon. For immunocompromised folks, we're hopeful that these will truly be lifesaving."

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Omicron and Pregnancy

Portrait of the young pregnant woman

"With previous variants, especially Delta, it was clear that pregnant people were more likely to have severe illness than people who aren't pregnant," says Dr. Charles. "Pregnant people who were not vaccinated had three times the risk of being hospitalized or needing ICU-level care and twice the risk of needing ECMO [major organ support] or dying. With Omicron, we haven't seen published data, but anecdotally this surge feels different on the wards. We see many more cases throughout the community but fewer pregnant women going to the ICU and needing urgent ventilation or urgent delivery. We may be benefiting from high vaccination rates here in the northeast. It's important to remember that while Omicron may be milder than Delta, we don't know if it's milder than previous variants, especially for people who are not yet vaccinated."

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear Like This


Get Vaccinated To Protect Against Omicron

Doctor vaccinating female patient in clinic.

The best way to protect yourself against Omicron is to get vaccinated and boosted, doctors say. "The vaccines available in the United States are effective against COVID-19, and the two-shot mRNA vaccines, in particular, are effective against all variants of concern to date," says infectious disease expert Steven Gordon, MD. "The term 'fully vaccinated,' in the Omicron era, means being boosted. Even with variants of concern, the most important tool we have for prevention of getting an infection is getting vaccinated." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan