Research in the UK shows COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to the common cold. So, how can you tell the difference? Here, genetic epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector explains the latest data and what you need to know.
This could be because people are no longer required to wear masks and social distance, their immune systems are also not used to the viruses – and it could put additional strain on health systems, warn doctors.
Professor Tim Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and leads the UK's ZOE COVID Symptom Study, which has been running since March 2020 and has 4 million daily contributors.
"Nearly 50% of people currently having a positive PCR test do not have the classical symptoms whilst they're infectious," he says in a YouTube video update. "Every day they deliberate, more people are getting infected."
Since March 2021, the ZOE study has reported 21 symptoms of COVID-19 to look out for, including sneezing, sore throat, hoarse voice and a runny nose, which are more traditionally associated with the common cold.
Runny nose? Sore throat? Headache? With symptoms between COVID and colds so similar, how do you know which one you have, and if you should isolate? We've written a blog to help you understand https://t.co/8LKAZC2fL9
ZOE says: "Our data shows that loss of smell (anosmia) or loss of taste is still one of the most important predictors of testing positive for COVID-19 rather than a regular cold, so it’s an important symptom to look out for, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not."
Sniffing scented foods at home, or noticing whether familiar foods start to lose their flavour or taste strange, is a good way to check.
Symptoms different among vaccinated
There's a gap appearing between symptoms of COVID-19 among people who have been vaccinated - and those who haven't.
Professor Spector says: "There are thousands of cases every day that are actually COVID that people thought were just a cold and they're spreading it to other people. And that's one reason why we have such high rates compared to other countries, where there is public awareness of what's going on."
He encourages everyone with "cold or flu-like symptoms" to take a lateral flow test followed by a PCR test to confirm it's not COVID-19.
"It's a lot easier to work from home for a couple of days if you're feeling under the weather, without spreading it around, and get yourself a test.
"We need to find the sweet spot between over-obsessing about the virus and too much complacency, which I think there is at the moment.
"If you do have a cold, think, 'It could be COVID', and keep your distance until you know whether it is or not."
Watch Professor Spector explain how to tell if it's a cold or COVID-19 here: