Many cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are so mild, infected Americans are struggling to determine whether they have the virus or the common cold.
Cases of the virus are surging nationwide as the Omicron variant has become dominant in a matter of weeks. But deaths and hospitalizations are lagging behind, and many of those infected are reporting symptoms that more closely resemble a cold or the flu than a serious, deadly disease.
We now have population data and laboratory data that omicron infections are resulting in less severe illnesshttps://t.co/paW6moZTJh
— Marty Makary MD, MPH (@MartyMakary) December 27, 2021
Three groups of researchers, from South Africa, Scotland and England, all found that the Omicron variant is less likely to send patients to the hospital than the Delta or Alpha strains of COVID-19, according to The New York Times. The study from South Africa found that the variant is up to 80% less severe.
That has prompted some media outlets to begin printing guides on how to tell Omicron from the common cold. According to The Washington Post, “health experts warn the symptoms that previously helped people to gauge whether they had a cold, flu or covid-19 are no longer the useful marker they once were.”
“In this omicron-dominant season, symptoms of cold, flu or covid-19 are overlapping to a large degree.”
The Deseret News ran a piece entitled “How to tell the difference between the common cold and the omicron variant.” (RELATED: Merck’s New COVID-19 Pill Could Accidentally Trigger A New Variant, Experts Warn)
One study indicates that many people who assume they have a cold may actually be carrying COVID-19 right now. The study’s lead author, epidemiologist Tim Spector, said Omicron for most people will feel “much more like the common cold, starting with a sore throat, runny nose and a headache.”
The data on deaths and hospitalizations reflects that reality. Nationwide cases are up 134% since Nov. 1, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In that same time frame, the total number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are only up 8.9%, and deaths are actually down by 1%.