Covid-19: Cough, fatigue, sore throat 'more common' with new variant

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Cough, fatigue, sore throat and muscle pain may be more common in people who test positive for the new UK variant of coronavirus, a study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests.

The ONS findings are based on positive tests from a random sample of 6,000 people in England.

Loss of taste and smell may be slightly less likely to affect those with the new form of the virus.

However, it is still one of the three main symptoms of the virus.

The NHS website lists the symptoms as a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.

Most people infected with the virus develop at least one of these symptoms.

The new variant, which was first spotted in Kent in September, spreads more easily than the previous form of the virus and has now spread across the UK, causing a surge in cases which prompted the current lockdown.

There is some evidence it could be more deadly than other variants, although the data isn't strong enough yet to say for certain.

Two other variants - one from South Africa and another from Brazil - are also circulating, although at lower levels.

The ONS analysis looked at the symptoms reported by people up to a week before testing positive for the new variant of coronavirus, compared with those testing positive for the old variant.

They were tested over two months between mid-November and mid-January.

Test results compatible with the new variant show up as being positive for two genes, rather than three for the other variant.

In a group of about 3,500 people with the new variant:

  • 35% said they had a cough
  • 32% had fatigue
  • 25% had muscle aches and pains
  • 21.8% had a sore throat

In a group of 2,500 people with the old variant:

  • 28% had a cough
  • 29% had fatigue
  • 21% had muscles aches and pains
  • 19% had a sore throat

The study found 16% of those with the new variant experienced losing their sense of taste while 15% lost their sense of smell.

This was slightly lower than reported by people with the old variant (18% for both).

There was no difference found in levels of headaches, shortness of breath or diarrhoea and vomiting in both groups.

Higher viral load

Prof Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said the new variant of the virus had 23 changes compared to the original Wuhan virus.

"Some of these changes in different parts of the virus could affect the body's immune response and also influence the range of symptoms associated with infection," he said.

Infected people appear to produce more virus and this could result in more widespread infection within the body "perhaps accounting for more coughs, muscle pain and tiredness", Prof Young added.

The analysis is part of a long-term study to track coronavirus in the UK population, carried out jointly with Public Health England, the University of Oxford and the University of Manchester.

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