“Good reason to be worried” as Omicron COVID variant spreads fast.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus that was first detected in South Africa has now spread to at least 14 countries. Some experts believe it’s likely already reached the U.S., but as governments including America’s race to impose travel restrictions, scientists are racing to figure out how much more dangerous than previous strains this mutated virus really is.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the new variant was likely already in the United States, He also warns people whose these symptoms should see the doctor. Here are 7 sure signs you’ve already had coronavirus without knowing it.
If you didn’t receive a positive COVID-19 test when you were sick, it’s harder to know if you had the disease.
There are no sure signs that you already had COVID-19. But there are some general symptoms you may have experienced, such as
- pink eye
- loss of taste or smell
Keep reading as we look at these signs in more depth
Signs that you may have already had COVID-19
COVID-19 can affect many different parts of your body and cause general symptoms that have many potential causes. Some people with COVID-19 don’t develop any symptoms.
It’s impossible to know if you had an infection for sure without a positive COVID-19 test, but here are some of the potential signs.
1. You had a “bad cold.”
Early in the pandemic, people believed that COVID-19 didn’t start circulating in the U.S. until late February and March. New research from the University of Texas suggests otherwise. For the study, scientists analyzed throat swabs taken last winter in people who had suspected flu cases. These swabs were done in Wuhan, China (where the novel coronavirus originated) and Seattle, Washington (where the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S.).
The researchers discovered that for every two cases of the flu, there was one case of COVID-19. As a result, they believe COVID-19 likely arrived in the U.S. sometime around Christmas.
“It took longer to get out to rural areas so, if you were on a farm this winter and you had the sniffles, you probably just had a cold. If you were in New York City or another major city, you might have had a COVID infection and never knew it,” Dr. Schaffner says.
It can be tough to distinguish a cold from a mild form of COVID-19 without a test, depending on which symptoms you experience, he says, but colds don’t typically cause shortness of breath, severe headaches, or gastrointestinal symptoms like COVID-19 can. Here’s the full list of the CDC’s official symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
2. You lost your sense of smell or taste at one point.
Loss of smell and taste has been a big hallmark of COVID-19. While this symptom doesn’t occur for everyone, Dr. Adalja points out that it’s now strongly linked with the novel coronavirus.
Preliminary data from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) found that, in COVID-19 patients who lost their sense of smell, 27% had “some improvement” within about seven days, while most were better within 10 days.
Worth noting: It’s also possible to temporarily lose these senses with other respiratory conditions, like a cold, the flu, a sinus infection, or even with seasonal allergies. But experts say that the symptom can linger in some people and last for months after recovering from COVID-19.
3. You’ve been dealing with unexplained hair loss.
This hasn’t been widely studied in the context of COVID-19, but many people who have recovered from the virus are reporting issues with hair loss. Actress Alyssa Milano, who has been suffering from COVID-19 symptoms for months, shared a video of herself on Instagram in early August repeatedly brushing out large clumps of hair after she showered.
Members of Survivor Corps, the Facebook support group for people who have had COVID-19, have also talked about experiencing hair loss months after recovering from the virus. It’s due to a condition known as telogen effluvium, and it can be caused by a slew of factors, including pregnancy, extreme stress, weight loss, and illnesses other than COVID-19, Dr. Adalja says.
It’s unlikely that you would just lose more hair than usual without having other COVID-19 symptoms, like a cough or fever, Dr. Adalja says. It’s also important to note that hair loss can happen from stress in general, he says—and there’s been a lot of stress due to the pandemic. If you’re experiencing hair loss, it’s possible it’s due to an unknown COVID infection, a build-up of stress during uncertain times, or another underlying issue.
4. You feel breathless sometimes.
Research published in the journal JAMA has found that people with COVID-19 can have after-effects of the virus, including shortness of breath. It’s not entirely clear why at this point or how long this can last, but it’s likely due to lasting inflammation in the lungs.
“This is one of the well-known lingering effects in people who were diagnosed with COVID-19,” Dr. Schaffner says. “If you have this, well, perhaps that illness you experienced before was actually COVID.” If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, call your primary care physician for guidance or ask for a referral to a pulmonologist. They can often prescribe medications and treatments, like an inhaler, that can help, Dr. Schaffner says.
5. You have a cough that will not go away.
A lingering cough is another symptom that people who participated in the JAMA study reported. The cough is often dry, meaning that nothing comes up, like like phlegm or mucus, Dr. Adalja says. This is fairly common: Data from the CDC found that 43% of people who had COVID-19 still had a cough 14 to 21 days after getting a positive test for the virus.