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The symptoms of COVID-19 appear to be changing. Here's what to look for

More people are reporting different symptoms of the virus.
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The symptoms of COVID-19 seem to be changing due to people in British Columbia getting a coronavirus vaccine. But the Omicron symptoms are different, too.

If you've wondered whether or not you've had coronavirus this year, you are far from alone. 

While fewer people visit clinics to get tested for COVID-19, many people call HealthLink BC for guidance on whether or not they have symptoms of the virus. And with the widespread availability of rapid tests, British Columbians may test themselves from the comfort of their homes. 

The number of COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals has risen by 46 in the past week, to 596 today – the highest count since February 25, when there were 599 such patients. 

But most people who test positive for the virus will not end up in the hospital — and some may even present decidedly mild symptoms.

Symptoms of COVID-19: What should you look for 

Dr. Brian Conway is the medical director at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre (VIDC) and an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia. He told Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that people should continue to look out for respiratory COVID-19 symptoms. 

"It remains a respiratory illness: cough, shortness of breath...and viral components to it, headaches, muscle aches, things like that. That remains there," he explained. 

The doctor noted, however, that vaccinated people may have "quite mild" symptoms, such as a scratchy throat, mild cough and sneezing. 

"So I think what we should be doing is if you have any symptoms at any time, given that the rapid tests that are plentifully available now, is to test."

Omicron symptoms: Are there some changes in what to look for?

Early in the pandemic, public health advised British Columbians that a loss of taste and/or smell was a common symptom of the virus. Now, far fewer people are reporting this symptom. 

Instead, more people are reporting gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach ache and nausea, explained Conway.

"So I would recommend to someone who is nauseated to go get a COVID test," he said, noting that many people who test positive feel well aside from an upset stomach. 

But Conway can't say for certain whether the symptoms of Omicron are different or if they appear different because such a high percentage of the population is vaccinated. Moreover, there are multiple variants of the Omicron strain circulating throughout the population. 

Coronavirus rapid tests

With the widespread availability of rapid tests in B.C., people should test themselves if they think they have symptoms of the virus.

But anyone who is at a higher risk of getting severely ill should seek medical attention immediately, Conway emphasized.

"So if you're over age 60, if you have a couple of other illnesses...or if you're diabetic, then I would seek attention because there's a treatment called Paxlovid," he said. "So if you take it twice a day for five days, it will reduce significantly the rate of hospitalization.

"But it must be taken within the first five days of an illness. So there's a bit of a rush."

For people who are not at a high risk of severe illness and are presenting mild symptoms, a positive result on a rapid test is a "red flag." On the other hand, a negative result does not necessarily indicate that you are COVID-19 free — the test may have been taken too early or may give a false negative. 

If you have questions about your symptoms, contact your health care provider or call 811. You can also use the BC Centre for Disease Control's (BCCDC) Self-Assessment Tool.

Find out more information about if you should get tested for COVID-19 with the BCCDC online.

With files from Glen Korstrom