Top Covid symptom affecting people right now - and the one key sign to tell virus apart from flu

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Covid infections are increasing across the UK and flu is also “circulating widely”

Covid infections are rising across most parts of the UK once again, at the same time flu is “circulating widely”, health experts have warned.

An estimated 1.3 million people in private households across the country tested positive for coronavirus in the week to 5 December, up 16% from 1.1 million in the previous week, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

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Levels are still well below previous waves earlier this year when the total peaked at nearly four million in July and just under five million in March, but data suggests the UK is  facing its third winter in a row with Covid on the rise.

But unlike in 2020 and 2021, when coronavirus was the main driver of sickness and hospitalisations, this winter is seeing other viruses becoming more prevalent, with the rate of flu hospital admissions overtaking those for Covid in England for the first time since the pandemic began.

A sore throat is the number one symptom of Covid right now, according to the ZOE Health Study (Composite: Kim Mogg)A sore throat is the number one symptom of Covid right now, according to the ZOE Health Study (Composite: Kim Mogg)
A sore throat is the number one symptom of Covid right now, according to the ZOE Health Study (Composite: Kim Mogg) | Kim Mogg

Health experts say the jump in infections is likely to have been driven by people mixing more indoors, coupled with the fact that winter viruses such as flu are circulating more widely.

Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) consultant epidemiologist for immunisation, said: “We’re seeing rises in flu, Covid and other winter viruses as people mix more indoors.

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“Covid hospitalisations are highest in the oldest age groups, so it is particularly important that everyone who is eligible continues to come forward to accept their booster jab. While Covid-19 and flu can be mild infections for many, we must not forget that they can cause severe illness or even death for those most vulnerable in our communities.”

What are the top Covid symptoms?

Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the ZOE Health Study, has unveiled the most common symptoms affecting people infected with Covid at the moment in a recent video update on YouTube.

He said the top 20 coronavirus symptoms “haven’t changed that much”, according to the latest ZOE data, which could be because the Omicron variant BA.5 is still the most common strain.

Prof Spector went on to warn that a sore throat is still the number one symptom by far at the moment, with 64% of infected people reporting it. He added: “A sore throat is still the commonest symptom of Covid at the moment - 64% of cases.

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“This is interesting because there are all kinds of other causes of sore throat at the moment - these cold viruses and strep throat, all of them which are more common than Covid - but it is still there as number one. “This is followed by runny nose, blocked nose and headache.”

The top 20 symptoms affecting people at the moment, according to ZOE data include:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Cough (no phlegm)
  • Cough (with phlegm)
  • Hoarse voice
  • Muscle aches
  • Altered smell
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Dizzy
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of smell
  • Eye soreness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain and tightness
  • Earache
  • Chills or shivers
  • Wheezing

The symptom to tell Covid apart from flu

Prof Spector also noted that one symptom in particular can help to tell Covid apart from flu. He said that having a fever or high temperature is no longer in the top 20 symptoms of coronavirus “which differentiates it from flu, particularly.”

He added: “The overall summary is that these symptoms are still really similar to the cold viruses that we’re seeing, particularly respiratory syncytial virus, and it’s pretty hard to tell apart without getting yourself tested.

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“You can tell it from flu because with flu you are more likely to get a fever than you are with Covid, but again, a test is probably the only way to be sure.”

A few groups of people are still eligible for free NHS tests across the UK, including if you have a health condition which means you are eligible for Covid treatments, or if you work in the NHS or adult social care. Further information on free lateral flow tests and how to order is available on the government website.

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