The Omicron variant is causing a surge of new COVID cases, breakthrough infections, and reinfections. Cases have increased in the U.S. by more than 85 percent in the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Much of this has to do with how quickly this iteration of the virus can spread, as well as its ability to evade existing immunity. But as it gets easier to get infected with COVID, it's also becoming harder to know if you have the virus or another circulating illness, like the flu or the common cold. Many tell-tale COVID symptoms like loss of taste and smell or shortness of breath are being reported less often among those with the Omicron variant. At the same time, this variant is producing some unique symptoms of its own. Read on to find out the four new COVID signs that could mean you've been infected with Omicron.
New data from the Zoe COVID Study App has indicated that lower back pain is a new symptom of the Omicron variant, The Telegraph reported. Early on in Omicron's discovery, doctors in South Africa said they were seeing frequent instances of muscle aches that were manifesting as lower back pain in COVID patients, per The Washington Post.
"People will tell us they went to bed last night [and say that] they felt warm and cold during the night, [and wake up with] body aches and pain, chest pain, or backache and fatigue—that's Omicron," Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor and one of the first to report on Omicron, told MSNBC. According to Coetzee, this could because this variant is attacking the musculoskeletal symptom early on.
"A significant number of these patients are having back-breaking pain in the lower back and severe myalgia which is adding to the patient's woes," Ann Mary, a consultant of general medicine at the Amrita Hospital in Kochi, India, also confirmed to the Indo-Asian News Service.
Night sweats were not seen as a general symptom of the original coronavirus strain or the Delta variant but are now being considered a common symptom of the Omicron variant, according to CaroMont Health. "People are reporting night sweats, which is a very strange symptom that they say they're having," John Torres, MD, an emergency room doctor and a NBC News senior medical correspondent, confirmed to Today on Dec. 28.
The Mayo Clinic describes night sweats as "repeated episodes of extreme perspiration," which are usually brought on by an illness. Amir Khan, GP, a doctor for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, told The U.S. Sun that people who have this symptom because of COVID are likely to experience "those kind of drenching night sweats where you might have to get up and change your clothes."
Loss of appetite
Omicron is also likely to produce gastrointestinal symptoms. The Zoe COVID Study app recently updated its list of common Omicron symptoms to include loss of appetite, the Daily Express reported. "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."
Nausea has also been reported as a common symptom of the Omicron variant, according to Tim Spector, a professor genetic epidemiology at King's College London and head of the Zoe COVID Study App. "Some of them had nausea, slight temperature, sore throat, and headache," Spector said in a YouTube video, referencing patients within an outbreak of fully vaccinated and boosted individuals.
These individuals are more likely to have milder illness from Omicron as well. And while nausea had been associated with previous variants of the virus, it might stand out now because more people are picking up on these milder symptoms, Andrew Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times. Research has found that Omicron may infect the lungs less and present more like a respiratory infection, which can cause people to produce phlegm as they cough that can irritate and upset the stomach when swallowed, Pekosz said.