By Jack Phillips
While health officials have said that COVID-19 symptoms have been relatively consistent over the years, a recent survey has revealed the most common symptoms of the viral infection—as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the newest variant JN.1 has seen an uptick in recent days.
The CDC, in an update earlier this month, said that it’s not clear if symptoms associated with the JN.1 variant are markedly different than previous ones.
“In general, symptoms of COVID-19 tend to be similar across variants,” the agency said. “The types of symptoms and how severe they are usually depend more on a person’s immunity and overall health rather than which variant causes the infection.”
Recent survey data collected by health officials in the United Kingdom, where multiple COVID-19 strains are spreading, trouble sleeping and insomnia appear to have become more common symptoms among cases. In comparison, a survey released more than a year for Scotland shows no mention of trouble sleeping or insomnia as symptoms.
The data show that approximately 10.8 percent of surveyed UK residents reported having issues trying to sleep. The same dataset shows that 10.5 percent of survey respondents cited worry or anxiety as a COVID-19 symptom.
Notably, a once-telltale sign of a COVID-19 infection was a loss of taste or smell. However, that symptom was only reported by about 2 percent of respondents in the survey. The Scottish survey from last year showed that about 11 percent of respondents reported a loss of taste or smell.
Meanwhile, only 2.4 percent reported getting a fever associated with COVID-19, according to the survey.
The most common COVID-19 symptom was a runny nose at 31.1 percent, while cough was No. 2 on the list at 22.9 percent, the data show. About 20 percent of respondents reported a headache, nearly 20 percent reported weakness or tiredness, 15.8 percent reported muscle pain, and 13.2 percent reported a sore throat.
The UK survey did not make mention of the JN.1 variant. And how those symptoms are different also depends on whether those people specifically tested positive for COVID-19 or other infections such as influenza and RSV.
“Cough, sore throat, sneezing, fatigue and headache were all among the most commonly reported symptoms for each of the three infections, suggesting that discriminating between SARS-CoV-2, influenza and RSV based on symptoms alone may prove challenging,” UK officials wrote in a preprint. Those symptoms are in line with other surveys from prior COVID-19 variants throughout the pandemic.
A CDC study that was released in May as a preprint found that common symptoms among those who contracted the earlier BA.5 variant appeared to be notably different. About 77 percent reported a cough, 48 percent reported a fever, 22 percent reported shortness of breath, and 20 percent reported a change of taste or smell.
On Dec. 22, the CDC said in an update that JN.1 is continuing “to cause an increasing share of infections and is now the most widely circulating variant in the United States,” adding that it’s now about 39 percent to 50 percent of all COVID-19 variants. JN.1 amounted to approximately 15 percent to 29 percent two weeks ago, it noted.
“JN. 1’s continued growth suggests that the variant is either more transmissible or better at evading our immune systems than other circulating variants. It is too early to know whether or to what extent JN.1 will cause an increase in infections or hospitalizations,” the CDC said, adding, “We’re also seeing an increasing share of infections caused by JN.1 in travelers, wastewater, and most regions around the globe.”
Several days before the update, the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) listed the COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 as a “variant of interest,” but it noted there is little evidence to suggest that it poses a more severe health risk than other recent variants.
The variant “may cause an increase in SARS-CoV-2 cases amid a surge of infections of other viral and bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season,” referring to the virus that causes COVID-19, according to WHO.
“As we observe the rise of the JN.1 variant, it’s important to note that while it may be spreading more widely, there is currently no significant evidence suggesting it is more severe or that it poses a substantial public health risk,” Dr. John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News last week.
It comes as several hospitals in Massachusetts, New York, California, Illinois, Delaware, Washington, and elsewhere have opted to re-implement mask mandates. While some of the hospitals only require masking for staff, some of the facilities will require face coverings for patients and visitors as well.