The Delta variant appears to cause different coronavirus symptoms to what we’re used to, which are more reminiscent of a bad cold, according to the lead researcher behind the Zoe Covid Symptom Study.
Professor Tim Spector, an expert in genetic epidemiology from King’s College London (KCL), said the variant, which first originated in India and has now become the most dominant variant in the UK, “is more like a bad cold” in the younger population and “people don’t realise that”.
The NHS website still lists the three classic symptoms – a high temperature, new and continuous cough, and loss or change to smell and/or taste – as the main symptoms of the virus.
In his weekly debrief, Prof Spector said increases in cases appear to be in the young and unvaccinated, with most cases under 40 years old.
This tallies up with Public Health England (PHE) statistics published on June 10, which revealed case rates have increased in most age groups this past week, with infections now highest in those aged 20-29.
Data suggests the Delta variant has an R rate of 6, which is about twice as transmissible as the original variant. That’s “really infectious”, says Prof Spector.
People who are fully vaccinated can still catch this variant, although it’s likely they’ll have a milder version and won’t need to be hospitalised.
“Covid is acting differently now,” says Prof Spector, citing the symptom change. “This means that people might think they’ve just got some sort of seasonal cold and they still go out to parties and they might spread it around to six other people. We think this is fuelling a lot of the problem.”
What are the symptoms?
Since the start of May, his team have been analysing the symptoms submitted by all app users and have noticed they’re not the same as they once were.
The number one symptom now is headache, followed by sore throat, runny nose and fever – “all those are not the old classic symptoms,” says Prof Spector.
”[Symptom] number five is cough, it’s rarer, and we don’t even see loss of smell coming into the top 10 anymore. This variant seems to be working slightly differently.”
He said young people might get symptoms that “feel like a bad cold or some funny ‘off’ feeling” – those who do should stay home and order a lateral flow test. “If you feel unwell, just stay at home for a few days until it passes,” he concludes.
Discussing the latest rise in cases, Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, urged people to remember it’s safer to meet outside. “Practise good hand hygiene and wear face coverings in enclosed spaces,” she added.