It's a frequently asked question: Has the Delta variant changed the symptoms of COVID-19? The answer is a bit complicated. "There does seem to be some differences between the symptoms of Delta and the symptoms of the earlier variants," says Karen Jubanyik, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and author of Beat the Coronavirus. "However, it is not clear whether this is a function of the virus itself, or who it is infecting." Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
The First Signs of Delta Infection
In terms of the Delta variant, Jubanyik says doctors today are seeing people complaining of these symptoms early in the course of their illness:
Nasal congestion/runny nose/sneezing
"We are not seeing so much loss of taste/smell, which seemed to be a relatively early symptom with other variants," she notes. "We are seeing fewer patients with severe cough early in the illness with Delta."
However, "This might be related to more people being vaccinated and getting less ill and not really anything specific about the Delta variant," she says.
The Most Common Symptom, Regardless of Variant
At least one early signifier of COVID-19 hasn't changed. "As with other variants, it seems that the most common symptom—early or late—is no symptoms at all, especially in young healthy people," says Jubanyik. "That has always been part of the secret to the success of this virus spreading: that many people, especially young healthy people, are asymptomatic throughout the course of the illness, do not get tested and do not isolate, and spread the virus."
That's why it's important that if you experience symptoms that are out of the ordinary, get tested for COVID and isolate until you know the results. Look for:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
Inability to wake or stay awake
Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
Is Delta Different, Or Just Who's Getting Infected?
It's hard to say whether Delta is acting differently or is more or less severe than previous strains, because vaccines have changed who gets infected and becomes seriously ill. "For example, the earlier variants in some data sets appear to be more lethal," says Jubanyik. "But this is likely because this was before vaccinations, and therefore, the elderly, who are largely vaccinated now, were more likely to get very sick and die."
The Delta variant is now making its way through pockets of younger, unvaccinated people. "In many areas of the country, where there are high levels of vaccination among the elderly but low rates in the younger population, what we are seeing is a reflection of COVID illness in a relatively young population and not really anything specific about Delta," says Jubanyik.
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.