Does Omicron cause severe illness? 5 warning signs of Covid that require urgent medical help

The Omicron Covid variant generally causes mild disease but symptoms can be more severe in some cases

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The Omicron Covid-19 variant has been found to cause milder symptoms in most people who catch it, but for a small minority the effects can be more severe.

Those who have underlying health conditions, such as a weakened immune system, and those who are unvaccinated are considered most at risk of serious disease from coronavirus, and are likely to suffer much worse symptoms than others.

Omicron symptoms can be more severe in some cases (Composite: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)Omicron symptoms can be more severe in some cases (Composite: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)
Omicron symptoms can be more severe in some cases (Composite: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)

What are the major warning signs of severe infection?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has identified five key warning signs of coronavirus that could indicate severe infection.

The CDC says people should seek emergency medical help if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, grey, or blue-coloured skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Health experts stress that this list is not definitive and recommends people seek medical advice if they experience any other symptoms that are concerning.

The NHS advises calling 111 or seeking medical help if you gradually feel more unwell, become more breathless, have difficulty breathing when you stand up or move around, and you feel very weak, achy or tired.

What are the other symptoms of Omicron?

While the NHS still lists a high temperature, a new continuous cough, and a loss or change to sense of taste or smell as the three key signs of Covid-19, other symptoms have been linked to the Omicron variant.

Findings have shown that the majority of people infected with Omicron are likely to experience cold or flu-like symptoms, and the effects will generally be mild.

The UK’s first official report on Omicron found that the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is between 50 and 70 per cent lower than with the Delta variant.

The ZOE Covid study app identifies the following as the most common signs of Omicron infection:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Persistent cough
  • Sore throat

Other symptoms may also include night sweats, fatigue, body aches and pains - particularly in the lower back - and nausea.

Are Covid cases starting to drop?

Covid-19 cases surged over the festive period but infections now appear to be starting to plateau, suggesting the worst of the Omicron wave may be over.

Prof Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said the latest case figures were “cautiously good news” and he hoped the UK may have a “flu-type” relationship with the virus by the end of the year.

The latest data shows a 38% drop in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK over the last seven days, with 70,924 new cases reported on Sunday (16 January).

This is a significant drop compared to the peak of 200,000 new cases between late December and early January.

Covid-related hospital admissions alo appear to be going down, which Prof Tildesley described as “cautiously good news”.

He said he hopes by the end of the year the UK will have a different relationship with Covid-19, and new variants of the virus should become “generally milder”.

Prof Tildesley told BBC Breakfast: “A while ago I did say probably January is going to be a little bit rocky.

“If this wave starts to turn around and hopefully as we get towards the warmer weather, we can start to see these restrictions removed and we can have more of a discussion about what living with Covid is going to be like, and hopefully we won’t see a return to restrictions as we get further through the year.

“So my hope is that as we get further into this year and next year, we are dealing with milder versions of Covid and hopefully we have more of a flu-type relationship with Covid where potentially we protect the vulnerable as we get into the colder weather, but we don’t see a return of restrictions.”

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