What Are Most Common COVID-19 Symptoms With BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 Variants?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are looking much milder than they did at the beginning of the pandemic, new data shows. So, what might seem like a mild cold — or the flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — could really be COVID-19. And that may be because new coronavirus variants are taking over.

Two emerging omicron subvariants — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — are now causing nearly 70% of all COVID-19 cases in the US, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The previously dominant BA.5 variant now only accounts for 11% of cases in the country.

As these new variants continue to spread, the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may be a bit different than what we saw earlier on in the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about how things have changed and how to stay safe as the virus spreads this winter.

The most common COVID-19 symptoms now

In the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 came with a short list of characteristic symptoms, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and a loss of taste or smell. According to the CDC, those are still some of the symptoms you might get with a coronavirus infection, but, as new data from the ongoing ZOE Health Study suggests, the range of potential COVID-19 symptoms has changed over the last few years.

Ace of Dec. 13, the ZOE Health Study’s smartphone data shows the 10 most commonly reported COVID-19 symptoms these days are:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough without phlegm (a dry cough)
  • Headache
  • Cough with phlegm (a wet cough)
  • Hoarse voice
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Altered sense of smell

Previously, the ZOE Health Study regularly shared the five most common symptoms its users were experiencing. “But over time, we’ve seen that these change frequently. So, we’re now reporting the top 10 symptoms, which remain more stable,” the company said in its report.

Experts generally believe that symptoms of COVID-19 have become less severe over time, Dr. Otto Yang, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told TODAY.com previously.

That may be because omicron subvariants tend “to stay more in the upper respiratory tract,” Yang explained, meaning the virus doesn’t affect the lungs as much as it used to.

Being up to date on vaccines and boosters — or having some level of protection from a prior infection — may also make COVID-19 symptoms feel less intense, Yang said. “Someone that’s fully vaccinated and up to date may have such mild symptoms that they don’t even test themselves,” he added.

When to test for COVID-19

Because COVID-19 shares symptoms with so many of the other illnesses circulating at this time of year, you shouldn’t hesitate to take a home test.

“What folks really need to understand is that right now we are in flu season and RSV season — and we still have COVID hanging around,” Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, told TODAY.com previously. So, if you start to notice any of those common signs, like a cough, congestion or sore throat, that’s a good time to take a rapid test, she said.

If you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should take a test about five days after the exposure, the CDC says, even if you don’t have noticeable symptoms at that point.

In the midst of the winter holiday season, you can use at-home rapid COVID-19 tests before gathering with friends and family to make your get-togethers that much safer — especially for those who are immunocompromised or those with other risk factors that make them more likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms.

That’s particularly helpful for people in areas with a moderate or high level of community COVID-19 transmission, the CDC says, which currently applies to about half of the country.

Ace of Dec. 15, US households can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the government to help reduce the spread of the virus. If you haven’t already, now is the time to stock up.

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