As Covid-19 subvariants change, so too do the symptoms: Here are today’s top 10

Dec 14, 2022 | 7 comments

By Addy Bink and Alix Martichoux

As with any virus, the symptoms of COVID have changed, and a new study shows they have, again, changed slightly.

Virus symptoms can change for a number of reasons, like vaccines and new variants. When the BA.5 omicron subvariant became the dominant strain in the U.S., for example, COVID patients began reporting extreme fatigue more often and loss of taste or smell less.

The new symptoms are tied to new dominant subvariants – BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 now comprise the majority of cases reported in around the world and in U.S., according to the CDC.

As Covid-19 cases have become less severe, it is often difficult to distinguish its symptoms from those of the seasonal flu and the common cold.

The ZOE Health Study — a joint effort by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London, Stanford University School of Medicine and the health app ZOE — shared an updated list of the top COVID symptoms currently being reported by its participants last week.

Reviewing data from COVID-positive study participants for the 30 days prior to December 5, researchers found a sore throat was the most frequently reported symptom, followed by a runny nose and a blocked nose.

Here are the top 10 reported COVID symptoms noted in the ZOE Healthy Study since early November:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Runny nose
  3. Blocked nose
  4. Sneezing
  5. Coughing without phlegm
  6. Headache
  7. Coughing with phlegm
  8. Hoarse voice
  9. Muscle aches and pains
  10. Altered sense of smell

With the exception of sneezing and hoarse voice, all of these symptoms have been linked to COVID since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. government’s CDC data shows. Notably missing from this list compared to current CDC guidelines are the gastrointestinal-related symptoms of diarrhea and nausea or vomiting and some “traditional” symptoms: loss of smell, shortness of breath, and fever.

According to ZOE, the traditional symptoms have been reported less frequently among recent COVID patients. In an October report, ZOE listed fever as a commonly-reported symptom for unvaccinated COVID patients. A recent breakdown of symptoms based on vaccination status was not immediately available.

Researchers say that as Covid-19 cases have become less severe, it is often difficult to distinguish its symptoms from those of the seasonal flu and the common cold.

Increasingly, COVID symptoms are similar to those of the flu and RSV. All three respiratory viruses – currently prevalent in the U.S., causing a ‘tripledemic’ – have overlapping symptoms, with some variation. A chart from the Children’s National Hospital recently compared the symptoms associated with COVID, the flu, and RSV at a glance.

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and methods of treatment depend on the virus. While examining your symptoms is a good place to start, doctors recommend getting tested to help inform next steps.
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Credit: Nexstar Media