In recent years, the symptoms associated with COVID-19 have evolved, according to medical experts. Initially, symptoms such as loss of taste and smell were commonly associated with the virus. However, doctors are now observing milder upper respiratory symptoms in most COVID patients. Dr. Jonathan D. Grein, director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, explains that many of the symptoms seen now have been common for the past year.
Dr. Sarah Hochman, a hospital epidemiologist at New York University Langone Health, notes that COVID symptoms often resemble those of a common cold. She suggests that this could be due to either changes in the virus itself or increased immunity among the population from prior infections or vaccinations. These cold-like symptoms include congestion, runny nose, sore throat, dry cough, headaches, body aches, fatigue, and fever. However, it can be challenging to determine the specific infection based solely on symptoms, as there is significant overlap between COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Experts emphasize that COVID tests are still effective in detecting the virus, and there is no indication that the current tests are less likely to identify newer variants.
Shortness of breath and chest pain remain worrisome symptoms that warrant medical attention, particularly in individuals who are unvaccinated or have underlying health conditions. While severe illness, including pneumonia, is less common than before, it still occurs.
Loss of taste and smell, which were frequently reported at the beginning of the pandemic, are now less common. Dr. Shivanjali Shankaran, an infectious disease physician at RUSH University Medical Group, explains that as new variants like omicron and its descendants have emerged, these symptoms have become less likely.
To reduce the risk of severe illness, COVID-19 vaccination is strongly recommended. Shankaran emphasizes that vaccinations have consistently shown to decrease the risk of severe infections, hospitalization, and death. Updated vaccines are available to better match the circulating variants.
In addition to COVID-19, other respiratory viruses, such as the flu and RSV, are also circulating. Vaccinations for these viruses remain important. The RSV vaccine is available for adults aged 60 and older and babies up to 8 months, while the flu shot is recommended for individuals aged 6 months and older.
Basic hygiene practices, such as frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching the face, and coughing or sneezing into the elbow, are still crucial. Mask-wearing can also help protect against not only COVID-19 but other respiratory viruses as well.
In summary, the symptoms associated with COVID-19 have changed over time, resembling those of a common cold. Vaccination, testing, and maintaining good hygiene practices are key in preventing and managing the virus, as well as other respiratory illnesses.