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The Surprising Most Common Early Symptom of the Delta Variant — And Which Others to Look Out For


Experts have reported that the delta variant of covid-19 is much more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus. Thankfully, a year and a half after the pandemic started, science has a lot to tell us about what we should be on the lookout for in terms of early symptoms. Most recently, one study aimed to understand which symptoms of the delta variant appear first in hopes that people may get diagnosed — and treated — earlier.

The Covid Symptom Study

As a part of the COVID Symptom Study, a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London, and Stanford University School of Medicine has been tracking the initial symptoms of new covid cases through a specially-designed app (aptly called the Covid Symptom Study App).

Using the app, people diagnosed with covid are able to self-report their symptoms on a daily basis — even if they feel well. Using this data, the researchers are able to draw conclusions about things like how fast the virus is spreading in certain areas, which areas are considered “high risk,” and who is most at risk based on underlying health conditions. They’ve also been able to identify the most commonly reported early symptoms of the delta variant i people who are vaccinated. They include:

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

As for people who haven’t been vaccinated, the researchers say that initial symptoms are similar to those associated with earlier strains, like fever, cough and muscle pain, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Other common signs of covid that may appear later include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache, and chills.

Another interesting finding is that there’s one symptom that people with the virus — whether they’ve been vaccinated, aren’t vaccinated, or are partially vaccinated — report the most: headaches. “Even though headaches are a less well-known symptom of COVID-19, they are one of the earliest signs of the disease and more common than the ‘classic’ symptoms of cough, fever and loss of smell (anosmia),” the researchers wrote. Even more specifically, these headaches have been described as moderately to severely painful, creating a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation (usually on both sides of the head),
last for more than three days, and are resistant to OTC painkillers.

The researchers and other experts continue to insist that getting vaccinated is the best way to fight the spread of the virus, and lessen your chance of complications if you do happen to get infected. Their data showed that among those who are fully vaccinated, symptoms are less severe and there is a reduced risk of hospitalization and death.

We’re so glad that research like this exists to help us, as a community, fight the virus by understanding it better and doing our best to protect ourselves. Be sure to get tested or consult with your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. The earlier you’re diagnosed, the better!

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