By Derek Hawkins,
“How long do the symptoms of the omicron variant of covid-19 last?”
— Donna in California
Symptoms from omicron or any other version of the virus vary from one person to the next. Vaccination status, health history, age and lifestyle could all play a role in the duration and severity of illness.
Getting the vaccines and booster shots is the best way to reduce your risk of severe and potentially long-lasting disease. It’s clear from a growing body of research that healthy, boosted people are unlikely to get seriously sick or wind up in the hospital. Those who have received the initial vaccine shots, without boosters, appear to be protected against severe illness, too. Unvaccinated people and those with underlying health conditions face much higher risk of severe covid-19, hospitalization and death.
The emerging picture of omicron suggests that it may be less likely to result in hospitalization compared with the delta variant. Some early data indicates that covid-19 from omicron infections may be less severe, presenting more like a common cold or flu for some patients. Whether that means symptoms actually resolve faster remains to be seen — omicron has only been with us for about a month, so the findings are still scattered.
One eye-opening study out of Norway looked at an omicron outbreak at a Nov. 30 holiday party where 66 people of 117 fully vaccinated attendees tested positive for the virus and 15 had probable cases. Health authorities investigating the outbreak found that cough, nasal congestion, fatigue and sore throat were the most common symptoms, followed by headache and fever. More than a dozen of those infected said their symptoms cleared in a couple of days, while 62 attendees said they were still experiencing some symptoms around the one-week mark. None of the cases required hospitalization as of Dec. 13, two weeks after the party, researchers found.
People with mild covid-19 — of whatever strain — tend to bounce back in a week or two, according to Johns Hopkins. Research shows they probably aren’t at risk of spreading the virus to others 10 days after the onset of symptoms, provided that their symptoms have improved in that time and they aren’t feverish. Severe cases, on the other hand, can stretch for more than a month and leave people contagious for longer. There also is the vexing problem of “long covid,” which can cause some symptoms to linger for many months, even in vaccinated people.
Some coronavirus symptoms may also last longer than others, said Joshua Septimus, a medical director in the Houston Methodist health-care system. “In particular, fatigue and loss of taste and smell can persist beyond the period of contagion,” Septimus wrote recently.
— Derek Hawkins
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