The initial symptoms of COVID-19 infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that originated in Wuhan, China, were high temperature, new continuous cough, fatigue, sore throat, loss of taste and/or smell, shortness of breath, nausea or/and vomiting, and diarrhea. But things are-a-changin’ with the newer viral variants, especially the Delta variant (Dv).
A continuing U.K. based study called the Zoe COVID Symptom Study uses a cell phone app which enables people to enter their COVID symptoms after a diagnosis is made. With regard to the Dv, the symptoms are much more like a “cold”, minus the high fever particularly. The most common symptoms vary among those fully vaccinated, having had one shot, and unvaccinated.
For the fully vaccinated in this study, the top 5 symptoms were headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of smell. The original COVID symptoms of loss of smell, fever and shortness of breath ranked 5, 12, and 29 respectively. A persistent cough was number 8, and is no longer a top indicator of COVID. Symptoms ranked after one vaccine dose changed a bit. The first 5 were headache, runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and persistent cough. Only the last one is one of the original indicators. And for the unvaccinated the symptoms are more comparable to the original list, with headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever, and persistent cough the first 5. Loss of smell is number 9, and shortness of breath number 30.
The Dv is now in at least 80 countries, and is the dominant strain in the U.K. and more recently the U.S. It is around 60% more transmissible than the U.K. alpha variant, which is considered far more contagious than the original Wuhan strain. Since the Dv provokes a picture more like a cold in young people, it is being dismissed early on.
That brings up another point in the evolution of this sickness saga. In the COVID symptom study, the first ones were headache and runny nose, which is precisely what makes us think it’s a “cold”. That term is a catch-all symptom complex for a host of different viruses, including rhinoviruses or the true cold viruses, adenoviruses, a couple strains of coronavirus related to SARS-CoV-2 distantly, etc. A July 10, 2021, article in Business Insider tries to categorize and compare the symptoms of COVID, colds, influenza, and allergies. Without repeating all of them, the overlap of symptoms between COVID’s newer presentation and colds is striking. It makes diagnosis very difficult.
The chart made from Mayo’s COVID Symptom Study says the onset of both colds and COVID is gradual, but the onset of influenza and allergies is abrupt. It ain’t necessarily so (per the musical, Porgy and Bess). COVID-19 infections rarely follow a neat pattern. With the lack of restrictions on masks and activities the seasonal respiratory infections will reappear and completely confuse the picture. Last year from October through January only 155 Americans were reported as hospitalized from influenza. The average for that time is around 8,600. That should speak volumes about the effectiveness of masks preventing germs spreading, not to mention separation and isolation, however cruel socially.
It is still worth it to be aware if you are infected with COVID-l9. It is important for you AND your family and community. Even if you don’t get sick or very sick, you can pass it on to someone who may just become severely ill or die. The individual host response to this infection runs the gamut of illness, just like all other infections. The “guesstimates” of asymptomatic infections have ranged from 20-45%. It likely is higher with the vaccines at work because they mercifully lessen the disease so much in almost everyone that more asymptomatic infections are probably occurring and not being discovered now. The lack of testing probably has skewed the data.
The last word is to get tested for COVID even if you think you have symptoms of a “cold.” You owe it to the people you live and work with. And get vaccinated if you aren’t for those same peoples’ sake along with yours. For those who don’t think they should get vaccinated, or want to quibble about the vaccines’ safety, or just don’t like being told what to do, these folks deserve a lifetime honorary membership to the Flat Earth Society.
Dr. Bures, a semi-retired dermatologist, since 1978 has worked Winona, La Crosse, Viroqua, and Red Wing. He also plays clarinet in the Winona Municipal Band and a couple dixieland groups. And he does enjoy a good pun.
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