If you have a cold right now, there's a good chance it's COVID-19, study finds

  • Half of people with coldlike symptoms likely have COVID-19, a UK study suggests.

  • Headache, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing are the top symptoms reported on the Zoe app.

  • It's almost "impossible" to tell a cold apart from COVID-19 without a test, the study's lead said.

New data from the Zoe symptom-tracker app suggests one in two people with new coldlike symptoms will have COVID-19 rather than the common cold.

Tim Spector, an epidemiologist and the study's lead author, said in a press release on Thursday that for most people, getting infected with Omicron would feel "much more like the common cold, starting with a sore throat, runny nose and a headache," rather than fevers, continuous cough, or loss of taste or smell.

Women with red hair and red nail varnish in a black coat and gold hoops puts COVID-19 test swab into right nostril.

To get to the 50% figure, Spector and his team compared the number of new cases of a coldlike illness with the number of new cases of COVID-19 confirmed by a lateral flow or lab test.

"We need to change public messaging urgently to save lives as half of people with cold-like symptoms now have COVID-19," Spector said.

"It's virtually impossible" to tell between a cough and COVID-19 unless you get tested, he said.

Scientists are still racing to find out whether the Omicron variant, which is quickly spreading in several countries including the UK, US, Denmark, and South Africa, does indeed cause milder illness than Delta. In his statement, Spector said it was still too early to gauge Omicron's severity from the data available — a perspective shared by many other experts, as Insider reported Thursday.

According to Spector's findings, people with Omicron who reported symptoms on the Zoe app were less likely to have five or more symptoms than those with Delta.

He has found at least 20 common symptoms that are self-reported by Zoe's 850,000 weekly users. The top five are headache, fatigue, a runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing — similar to the symptoms of the Delta variant.

"Waiting for those symptoms to occur is not a good way to see if you've been infected or if you should get a test," he said.

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