The Delta variant of COVID has different symptoms than other coronavirus versions

Person blowing their nose to combat a runny nose, one of the delta variant symptoms
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: July 12, 2021

Through nearly a year and a half of pandemic life, the typical symptoms of a COVID infection have become common knowledge. People are consistently on the lookout for the three main COVID-19 symptoms, which have been identified as cough, fever, and the loss of smell or taste. A range of new symptoms has arisen in recent weeks, however, and experts believe they may be linked to the delta COVID variant.

The delta variant, which was first identified in India, has spread to dozens of countries—including China, the United States, and Australia—and it’s being called “COVID-19 on steroids.” Several of the symptoms indicating an infection from the delta variant are different from those associated with the original strain of COVID-19, and that’s leading some to dismiss the symptoms as just a common cold.

Symptoms of the delta variant do not include loss of taste or smell, one of the big markers of COVID-19, and often seem like little more than “a bad cold or some funny ‘off’ feeling,” according to Tim Spector, a professor who runs the Zoe COVID Symptom study

“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.

The symptoms associated with the delta COVID variant—which include a runny nose and headache—tend to be mild, particularly among young people. This is an issue, according to Spector, because many young people may write their symptoms off as merely a cold. 

“People might think they’ve just got some sort of seasonal cold and they still go out to parties and they might spread around to six other people,” Spector said. “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—but do stay at home and do get a test.”

Not all patients are getting off so lucky. In China, doctors say many people who are infected by the delta variant are “becoming sicker and their conditions are worsening much more quickly,” according to the New York Times. Patients are getting sicker faster, and up to 12% of patients are becoming “severely or critically ill” within three to four days after symptoms first appear. 

Several other symptoms, including hearing loss and gangrene, have also been linked to the delta variant. This, paired with the higher transmission rate of delta and indications that existing vaccines may not protect against it, is prompting experts to urge caution. As noted by Chen Bin, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission, “The epidemic is not over yet, and the risk of virus transmission still exists.”

Read more on the coronavirus variants:

Sources: BBC, New York Times, Guardian

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