Covid-19: Delta variant symptoms include headache, runny nose – can feel 'more like a bad cold'

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  • The Delta coronavirus variant, first identified in India, has spread to several other countries 
  • It has become the variant responsible for the majority of infections in the UK 
  • A researcher says it behaves differently to other variants, leading to less common Covid-19 symptoms, like a runny nose

Infection with the Delta coronavirus variant may feel "more like a bad cold", especially among younger people, according to Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London.

The variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India in late 2020 and has since spread to several other countries, including the UK, where the variant is now dominant and accounts for the majority of Covid cases. 

Reporting by the BBC this week noted that headache, sore throat, and runny nose have become the most commonly reported symptoms linked to Covid infection in the UK.

Spector runs the Zoe Covid Symptom study, which uses an app to support vital Covid research. According to its website, it has over four million contributors globally and is the world’s largest ongoing Covid study. 

According to health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the classic Covid symptoms people should look out for include fever, sore throat, cough, and loss of smell (anosmia) or taste (ageusia). 

But Spector said that these symptoms are being seen less frequently in the UK, based on thousands of symptoms logged by people on the Zoe app.

"Since the start of May, we have been looking at the top symptoms in the app users – and they are not the same as they were," he said.

Loss of smell no longer common

Loss of taste or smell appeared to be the clearest and best indicator of Covid infection. In fact, mounting research suggested that it was one of the most common symptoms of infection – and in some cases the only symptom. 

However, Spector said that while fever remains quite common among people infected with the virus, loss of smell no longer appears in the top 10 symptoms. "This variant seems to be working slightly differently," he said. "People might think they've just got some sort of seasonal cold and they still go out to parties and they might spread it around to six other people.”

Putting others at risk

Spector said that while people infected with this variant may not feel very ill, they could be contagious and put others at risk of infection.

"The message here is that if you are young, you are going to get milder symptoms anyway. It might just feel like a bad cold or some funny 'off' feeling.”

Anyone who thinks they may have Covid should, therefore, stay home and get a test done, he advised.

The variant in SA

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed four cases of the Delta variant in South Africa in May 2021, The Witness reported. The cases were detected in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. 

In light of the news, epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, told News24 at the time that he was not "overly concerned" about this variant given that the variant dominant in South Africa, known as Beta (501Y.V2) has more mutations.

“... We know 501Y.V2 leads to increased transmission. If anything, people in India would be more concerned about getting our variant because it has three mutations,” he said. “Theirs has two mutations. I am not overly worried because of the overlap of mutations."

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Encouraging study shows Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine protective against variants, including Beta in SA

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