If you get knocked down with COVID any time soon, you'll almost certainly be dealing with the Omicron variant. This version of the virus is estimated to account for more than 99 percent of new infections in the U.S., edging out the formerly dominant Delta variant almost completely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Omicron has a number of mutations that make it different from past iterations of COVID, including how fast it spreads and the severity of the infection it produces. But these mutations also appear to be shifting the type of symptoms people infected with the coronavirus should expect. Now, doctors say Omicron is producing pain in two places that weren't commonly reported with past variants. Read on to find out what new sign of COVID you should be looking out for.
Muscle aches and pain is a frequently reported symptom of Omicron.
When doctors in South Africa and other countries first started reporting on the differing symptoms of patients who had come down with a new variant called Omicron, muscle ache or pain—also referred to as myalgia—was a common complaint. Now Gavi, a global vaccine alliance organization, says myalgia is one of the top signs of this variant people should be watching out for.
"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 chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), explained to MSNBC.
If you feel pain in your legs and shoulders, you could be infected.
While a coronavirus infection has potential to cause hurt anywhere in your body, there are two particular spots that could be indicative of Omicron. According to the U.K. Zoe COVID Study App, many people who complain about muscle aches with a COVID case feel that pain in the legs and shoulders.
The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) says that pain in these two body parts can manifest in a variety of ways when the underlying cause is the coronavirus. "Some people have widespread aching that can come and go for a time as you recover. Some people also have odd or altered feelings such as numbness or pins and needles and weakness in the legs," the agency states. In terms of your shoulders, the NHS says that problems can include a "combination of pain, stiffness, numbness," or even weakness.
There could be a number of reasons this type of pain is more common with this variant.
Myalgia is common in many viral infections and COVID is no exception, Harish Chafle, a senior consultant for Pulmonology and Critical Care at Global Hospital in Parel, Mumbai, told Livemint. But the medical expert said that it's clear that body pain is occurring more often with the Omicron variant, which could be a result of a number of different factors.
"It is a possibility that due to inflammatory mediators this variant is causing more myalgia than any other variant post-recovery," Chafle said. "Another reason for this can be the fact that this variant is affecting the musculoskeletal system more than any other variant before."
Coetzee also told MSNBC that she believes body pain is more apparent with Omicron because it is more likely to attack the musculoskeletal system first, impacting muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments with aches and pains.
But myalgia isn't one of the top five most common signs of Omicron.
There's no doubt that pain in the legs and shoulders—amid other potential places—is popping up more often with Omicron compared to prior variants of the virus. But body pain is still not considered one of the top five signs of infection from this variant. According to the Zoe COVID Study App, the most common symptoms of the Omicron variant are runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat.
There are also not really any signs of former telltale COVID symptoms like shortness of breath or loss of taste and smell. "A lot of the Omicron symptoms, the majority of them are looking like the common cold or some other viral illness, without any of the classic symptoms," Tim Spector, founder of the Zoe COVID Study App, said in a statement.