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Omicron, Common Cold, or Seasonal Flu? As All Show Similar Symptoms, Here’s How You Can Confirm if You Have Covid

Omicron, the new and wide-spreading coronavirus variant, has been ravaging the world, spiking up daily Covid-19 cases greatly. Although some health experts across the world have said that the variant is mild compared to the earlier Delta, the WHO on January 6 said that even though it appears to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as “mild”.

Public health professionals and scientists have all alerted caution as the variant is capable of highly mutated form of the virus and the unusually large number of evolutions. Amid such a scenario, it can get challenging for the average person to be sure of the symptoms they face.

Omicron’s symptoms mostly resemble that of common cold’s. In all three cases of common cold, influenza, or a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infection caused by Omicron, the symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose, body ache, and fever. There has not been any significant conclusive study yet that distinguishes Omicron symptoms. It might also be tempting to consider influenza, which tends to peak in the middle of winter from early October to mid-February. However, given that Omicron cases have surged globally over the past few days, it is also highly likely that the person might have contracted the fast-spreading variant.

According to experts, however, there is no quick and surefire way to know if one has Omicron. Although there are a few workarounds to land an educated guess, the importance of testing is revealed here more than ever since it is difficult to tell Omicron from the common cold, in particular, based on symptoms alone.

Professor Eskild Petersen, of the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, was quoted as saying by a media publication, “A common cold and Omicron is, in my view, impossible to distinguish.” The point was also echoed by Dr Andrew Freedman, an infectious diseases specialist at Cardiff University in the UK. “A lot of people, particularly vaccinated people, are getting what would otherwise be thought of as the common cold.”

Here are a few general symptoms of Covid-19, influenza, and the common cold, arranged according to their frequency:

Dry cough: Covid-19 (frequent), flu (frequent), cold (occasionally)

Fever: Covid-19 (frequent), flu (frequent), cold (rare)

Stuffy nose: Covid-19 (rare), flu (sometimes), cold (frequent)

Sore throat: Covid-19 (sometimes), flu (sometimes), cold (frequent)

Shortness of breath: Covid-19 (sometimes), flu (not observed), cold (not observed)

Headache: Covid-19 (sometimes), flu (frequent), cold (not observed)

Body aches: Covid-19 (sometimes), flu (frequent), cold (frequent)

Sneezing: Covid-19 (not observed), flu (not observed), cold (frequent)

Exhaustion: Covid-19 (sometimes), flu (frequent), cold (sometimes)

Diarrhoea: Covid-19 (rare), flu (sometimes), cold (not observed)

A Covid-19 fitness tracking app in the United Kingdom, called ZOE Covid study app, has reported two new symptoms that have been seen in Omicron patients — nausea and loss of appetite. As per Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, who is leading the study, these symptoms are common in those who are double-jabbed or even boosted.

However, the best advice given by professionals, as always, is to get tested and self-isolate at home in case symptoms appear. While the sensitivity of rapid tests in detecting Omicron might be a bit lower as of now, RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests are generally considered to be the most steadfast and accurate way of detecting a potential Covid-19 infection.

Jill Weatherhead, an infectious disease expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the National Geographic magazine that “the best thing we can do is identify what our risk tolerances are and make sure that we’re protecting others”, especially during this highly contagious period of time.

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