Omicron symptoms don’t last as long as common cold

Is it possible you might be better off contracting the Omicron variant of COVID than the common cold?

According to a study conducted by scientists at King’s College London and published in The Lancet, Omicron symptoms last on average 4.4 days – well below the average seven to 10 days that cold symptoms last – if you are triple-vaxxed.

But … before you start hoping that you’ll contract COVID ahead of a cold, there are several other factors to consider.

Read: Debate renews over COVID-19 close contact isolation rules

The King’s College researchers teamed up with ZOE (a commercial company based in the UK that is more well known for its personalised nutrition programs) to study the symptoms of 62,002 vaccinated UK participants from the ZOE COVID Study App. They had tested positive between 1 June 2021 and 27 November 2021 when Delta was dominant, and from 22 December 2021 to 17 January 2022 when Omicron was dominant.

They found that Omicron had a lower risk of hospitalisation and a shorter duration in the vaccinated population than previous variants. Strikingly, they also found a significant contrast between variants was the loss of the sense of smell, a common symptom of earlier variants. Noted in 52.7 per cent of Delta cases, it was experienced in fewer than 20 per cent of Omicron cases and often days later.

The symptoms that were consistently more prevalent for Omicron than Delta (regardless of vaccination status) were a sore throat and hoarse voice. In addition, debilitating symptoms such as brain fog, eye burning, dizziness, fever and headaches, though still occurring, were all significantly less prevalent with Omicron than with Delta.

Read: COVID and flu together more than doubles death risk, say experts

The researchers also noted that symptoms associated with Omicron had less involvement of the lungs and did not last as long in vaccinated people.

Professor Ana Valdes, honorary professor at King’s College London and one of the study’s authors, noted: “Although there is still a wide range of duration and severity of symptoms with Omicron, for vaccinated individuals we find on average a shorter duration of symptoms. This suggests that the incubation time and period of infectiousness for Omicron may also be shorter.”

Accentuating the effectiveness of a third vaccination dose, the research found the average length of symptoms for Omicron was, at 4.4 days, 3.3 days fewer than the Delta average. For those who had two doses, the Omicron average was 8.3 days, only 1.3 days shorter than the Delta average.

Read: How to get to sleep when you have a cold

One aspect not discussed in the study is long COVID. It has been well established that those who experience only mild symptoms while infected can have other, long-lasting and debilitating symptoms well after the infection has gone.

So, before you go out hoping you get the Omicron variant rather than a run-of-the-mill cold, remember that

  • the 4.4 is only the average number of symptomatic days (in your case it could be longer)
  • having only a mild case of COVID does not necessarily preclude you from suffering long COVID
  • the 4.4 day symptomatic average applies only to those who have had three vaccine doses.

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Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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