Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
The new COVID-19 variant was first reported in South Africa last week.
Just when we thought everything COVID-19 wise was beginning to level out a little, the World Health Organization announced news of Omicron: a new, highly mutated variant of the virus.
The strain was declared to be “of concern” until scientists establish more understanding of exactly what these mutations mean. While more data is needed, it’s currently believed that Omicron is either as transmissible – or less so – than the Delta variant that is currently the most prominent globally. Omicron has so far been found in around 30 countries worldwide, and many governments have tightened controls around borders to minimise spread.
But while all this is playing out on the news, the chances are you’ll be wondering how best you can protect yourself if the emergence of Omicron does trigger another wave of coronavirus. As mentioned, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the mutation, but it may be the case that Omicron displays slightly different symptoms to other variants of COVID-19.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the doctor who first drew attention to the existence of Omicron, told the BBC that she raised the alarm when she started to see patients presenting with “unusual symptoms”. She feared there may be a significantly mutated variant doing the rounds, because the symptoms differed slightly from those typically associated with the dominant Delta variant of COVID.
“It actually started with a male patient who’s around the age of 33 … and he said to me that he’s just [been] extremely tired for the past few days and he’s got these body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” Dr Coetzee said in an interview.
As opposed to a sore throat, the doctor said the patient complained more of a “scratchy throat” – and he didn’t report a cough or loss of taste or smell.
When the male patient tested positive for COVID, and other cases with similar symptoms began to emerge, Dr Coetzee knew it must be investigated.
In the UK, the NHS continues to flag the main symptoms of coronavirus as being a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. People are still encouraged to request a PCR test if they notice any of those symptoms, and to take sensible precautions while they await the outcome.
But this new information from Dr. Angelique Coetzee suggests it’s also potentially worth being on guard for some slightly different symptoms, too. Because the quicker we can act to detect COVID cases, the more we can prevent the spread, and the less likely it is the virus will reach someone vulnerable who could become seriously ill.