A few years ago, certain panic-inducing symptoms ― like loss of taste and smell, for instance ― were synonymous with a COVID-19 infection. But those symptoms have changed with time.
“I think the good news is most patients we’re seeing with COVID seem to have milder and upper respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Grein, director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
Additionally, Grein added that a lot of the symptoms doctors see now have been common for the last year or so.
So, what are the main red flags to keep an eye out for this fall? Below, doctors share the signs of COVID-19 that they’re seeing most:
Overall, many COVID symptoms look like cold symptoms.
Dr. Sarah Hochman, a hospital epidemiologist at New York University Langone Health and section chief of infectious diseases at Tisch Hospital in New York, said most COVID symptoms mimic those you’d see in a cold. “And I don’t know if it’s so much that the virus itself has changed to cause more cold-like symptoms than it did previously … or if it’s just that we all have some degree of immunity at this point, either from vaccines and or from prior COVID infections.”
Experts told HuffPost that these cold-like symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Body aches
“There’s a lot of overlap between COVID symptoms with influenza and [Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV] … so sometimes it can be very difficult just based on symptoms alone to know what you might be infected with,” Grein said.
COVID tests are still a good way to determine if you have the virus. “There’s no indication that the current tests available are less likely to pick up the newer variants compared to what we’ve seen before,” Grein added.
Shortness of breath and chest pain are still issues ― and warrant medical attention.
“Just like it’s been throughout the whole COVID pandemic, some people might have little to no symptoms and some people can get pretty sick,” said Dr. Shivanjali Shankaran, an infectious disease physician at RUSH University Medical Group in Chicago.
For people who do get very sick, worrisome symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain would be a reason to see a doctor, added Shankaran.
Grein noted that severe illness like pneumonia is still seen, but less commonly than earlier in the pandemic and is “typically in people that are either not vaccinated or have other underlying health issues.”
Loss of taste and smell are less common.
When the pandemic began, loss of taste and smell were frequently reported among people with a COVID-19 infection.
“As omicron has come, and then now we’re sort of seeing the grandchildren … of omicron, those symptoms seem to be less and less likely,” Shankaran said. “You do see them, but not as commonly as we saw them in the first year, for example.”
Vaccination is a way to reduce your likelihood of getting very sick.
The COVID-19 vaccine remains a safe and important way to stay healthy this fall and winter. Updated shots are available that better match the circulating COVID-19 variants.
“The most recent strain or variant is HV.1, which is a descendant of EG.5, which was the one that was predominant for the last few months,” Shankaran said. “Both are expected to be covered with a vaccine.”
“Vaccinations have ― again and again, throughout the last two years ― been shown to decrease the risk of severe infections, decrease the risk of needing hospitalization and decrease the risk of getting sick or dying,” Shankaran said.
COVID-19 vaccines are available at pharmacies across the country. You can go to vaccines.gov to find an appointment near you.
Other vaccinations are important, too.
Beyond COVID, several other respiratory viruses, namely the flu and RSV, are circulating as well, Shankaran noted.
You can take measures to protect yourself from these illnesses, too. “Vaccines for other respiratory viruses remain just as important,” Hochman said.
Hand-washing, masking and staying home when you’re sick all remain helpful.
It’s also important to follow basic hygiene, Hochman said, which includes frequent hand-washing, not touching your face and coughing or sneezing into your elbow instead of your hands.
“And … if you have symptoms of a cold, being aware of that and being careful, trying not to expose other people to that,” Hochman said.
Also, mask-wearing can be a helpful way to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.