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How do you know if you have Omicron? Symptoms of Covid variant explained - and does it show up in PCR tests

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed a least one person in the UK has died with the Omicron Covid variant

More than 3,000 Omicron cases have now been detected in the UK as Covid measures are tightened to try and curb the spread.

Mandatory face masks have been reintroduced in indoor venues in England, bringing the country in line with guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the UK government is urging all adults to get their booster vaccine.

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The six month gap between the second dose and a booster has been cut to just three months in a bid to boost immunity levels over winter, with the Prime Minister setting a target of offering a booster to everyone who is eligible by 31 December.

Self-isolation rules have also been tightened in response to the Omicron outbreak.

All unvaccinated adults must self-isolate for 10 days if they are a contact of someone who tests positive for Covid-19, while those who are double jabbed and identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19 in England will be told to take a daily lateral flow test for seven days instead of isolating from Tuesday (14 December),

This guidance applies to all cases of coronavirus, regardless of whether it is the Omicron variant or other strains.

Contacts will be advised to get a box of seven lateral flow tests free of charge from NHS Test and Trace either through pharmacies, schools or home delivery by ordering online.

But how do you know if you have the Omicron strain? Here’s what you need to know about testing and the symptoms to look for.

How do I know if I have Omicron?

PCR tests which are sent off to laboratories for testing will show what variant of coronavirus a person has been infected with, such as Omicron or Delta.

Not all labs in the UK have the required technology to detect Omicron cases, so depending on where you live, it may take longer to identify the strain.

A full genetic analysis is required to confirm an Omicron case, which can take between four and five days.

The Omicron variant has around 30 different mutations, including traits not previously seen before.

The majority of these are on the spike protein of the virus, which is the target of most Covid-19 vaccines.

PCR tests look for three different genes in the virus, including the spike (S), nucleocapsid (N2) and envelope or outer shell (E).

The Omicron variant has what is referred to as an "S-gene dropout", which the Delta strain does not have, so this can be a good indicator as to which variant a person is infected with, but full genomic sequencing is required to confirm this.

Can lateral flow tests detect Omicron?

Lateral flow, or rapid tests, cannot confirm which Covid-19 variant you have been infected with as these are not sent off to a lab for analysis, unlike PCRs.

However, these tests will confirm a positive or negative Covid-19 infection, including an Omicron case.

If you do test positive for Covid-19 after taking a lateral flow test, you must self-isolate immediately and take a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result.

Anyone who suspects they have Covid-19, or has been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, should take a PCR test.

These are free to order from the government website, but must be bought from a private company if you need one fto travel abroad.

What are the symptoms of Omicron?

Findings on Omicon currently indicate that for most people the variant only causes “mild illness”, although it is possible that some people may experience symptoms that are more severe.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, who first spotted the new variant said that while patients have so far had “extremely mild symptoms”, more time is needed to fully understand the effect it could have on vulnerable people.

Patients have also reported symptoms that differ slightly to those linked to the Delta variant, according to Dr Coetzee.

The symptoms that have been linked to the Omicron variant so far include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Scratchy throat  
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

Unlike other Covid-19 variants, Omicron has not yet been linked to the three key symptoms associated with the original coronavirus strain, which include a cough, a high temperature and a loss of taste or smell.

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