Coronavirus symptom checker: Does a cough mean omicron, a cold or the flu?

As omicron becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s become clear that the top symptoms associated with the strain aren’t the same as what’s been associated with COVID-19 for the last two years.

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As omicron becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s become clear that the top symptoms associated with the strain aren’t the same as what’s been associated with COVID-19 for the last two years.

Cold symptoms tend to be milder than COVID-19 or flu symptoms, and trend more towards a cough, runny nose, and sneezing. But breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people, especially omicron, appear to be presenting with more cold-like symptoms, USA Today reported. Fever, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and general fatigue are all considered symptoms of the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 43 patients sick with the omicron variant suffered had cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose as the most common symptoms, The Miami Herald reported.

The CDC lists the following symptoms as specific to COVID-19 and the flu:

Fever

Chills

Cough

Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing

Sore throat

Runny, stuffy nose

Muscle pain or body aches

Headache

Vomiting, diarrhea

But patients who have COVID-19 are more likely to see a change or loss in their ability to taste or smell.

Emily Landon, the chief infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine told The Washington Post that she’s heard of a number of patients with symptoms that sound like the common cold, only to have test results confirm they have the omicron variant of COVID-19. Landon told the Post “unlike earlier variants of concern, like delta, omicron has a higher affinity for the upper respiratory epithelium. It’s more likely to make people sniffle more, sneeze more or be congested.”

Another difference between omicron and previous variants appears to be the incubation time. After a person is exposed, it can take as few as three days to become contagious and test positive, compared to four to six days with delta and the original virus, The New York Times reported.

The only definitive way to know the difference between a cold or a breakthrough case of COVID-19 is with PCR testing, USA Today reported.

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