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Covid-19: Are there any differences in Omicron and Delta variant symptoms?


A lateral flow testing kit. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

A lateral flow testing kit. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Getty Images

A lateral flow testing kit. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

There may be some small differences in Omicron and Delta symptoms, but everyone should follow the isolation guidelines regardless, according to the deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 487,708 positive Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland.

The Omicron variant is now the dominant strain after it was first detected in South Africa in November.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

According to government research on variants of concern and under investigation, 31,051 confirmed or probable cases of Omicron were detected in Northern Ireland up to January 14, since the pandemic began.

The Delta variant accounted for 93,028 cases here up to the same date.

An Oxford University study investigating the differences in symptoms between the two variants examined 182,133 Omicron cases and 87,920 Delta cases in England.

It found that those who tested positive for Omicron commonly suffered from a sore throat, while a loss of taste or smell was more prevalent in Delta cases.

Omicron was also found to be twice as contagious as Delta and at least four more times transmissible than the original Covid-19 strain.

Those who test positive for Omicron are also more likely to become re-infected, the study suggested after it was released last week.

Deputy Chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland Dr Alan Stout, explained that almost everyone who now tests positive for the virus will “almost certainly” be carrying the Omicron strain.

“It is well over 90% of the cases — if not close to 100% will be Omicron now,” he said.

“Distinguishing between the two clinically becomes less and less important with time as we know what is dominating.”

Dr Stout also warned that up to 30% of people who test positive for the virus may have no symptoms at all but can still pass it on, highlighting the importance of lateral flow tests.

Despite the common perception that Omicron symptoms are less severe than Delta, Dr Stout said the virus is “always going to be potentially dangerous”.

“Fortunately, a lot of people will get relatively mild symptoms but a significantly small proportion of people will be at risk of becoming very unwell and hospitalised, and then the deaths which unfortunately follow,” he stated.

“It’s not about necessarily how it affects every single individual — it’s how it affects people in general.”

Chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland, Dr Tom Black added the general view of the experts is Omicron is consistent in severity with Alpha, which was the dominant strain last January.

“If you remember with Alpha this time last year, there were 1,000 people in hospital but we’ve roughly about 400 now in hospital,” he said.

“So the view is that although Omicron is as severe as Alpha, the expression in terms of patients is that the severity was mitigated by the vaccination process and the fact that 95% of the population now has antibodies against Covid.

“If it hadn't been for vaccinations, this January would have been as severe as last January.”

Other variants detected in Northern Ireland up to January 14, included Alpha (9,135 cases), Beta (nine cases), VUI-21OCT-01 (734 cases), VUI-21FEB-03 (two cases), VUI-21FEB-04 (40 cases), Kappa (four cases), VUI-21MAY-02 (three cases) and Mu (two cases).

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