Numbers of COVID cases in the UK have been reassuringly low over the past couple of months, but the emergence of a new Indian variant of the virus threatens to disrupt the progress. With suspicions that the variant could be far more transmissible than other versions of the virus, experts are urging caution as we edge close towards 'normal' life resuming.
The Indian variant of coronavirus is now thought to be most prevalent in areas such as Bolton, Blackburn, and parts of London. As it continues to spread around the country, it's vital we know what symptoms to look out for. The most common signs of COVID-19 are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. But according to one doctor based in India, there's another symptom that's emerging, and may theoretically be linked to the Indian variant.
Dr GB Sattur told a local newspaper in Bangalore about one patient, a 55-year-old man, who arrived at hospital with extreme dryness of the mouth. He also had conjunctivitis, which the GP knew to be a possible sign of the virus (it's listed by the World Health Organisation as one of the "less common" symptoms), and so he did further investigations.
"I had read that conjunctivitis can be one of the symptoms of COVID. Though he didn’t have a fever, he said that he was tired," explained the doctor. "I suspected that it could be a symptom of COVID and asked him to take a PCR test which turned out to be positive. He was then admitted to hospital and then recovered."
The case has led the doctor to urge his fellow clinicians to pay attention to complaints of a dry mouth when assessing possible COVID cases. "Doctors should keep an eye on tongue complaints and not ignore them," said Dr Sattur.
Speaking to Cosmopolitan earlier in the year, when the so-called 'Kent variant' was the most concerning development in the pandemic, Bupa UK's Dr Samantha Wild reiterated that the core COVID symptoms currently apply to any variant of the virus. "We’re still very much learning about these new variants," she said. "But at present the key symptoms for any strain of COVID-19 remain the same: a continuous cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours), a temperature and loss of taste or smell.
"If you’re seeing a doctor based on these symptoms, it is worth discussing other issues at the same time," she added. So if you've noticed a particularly dry mouth, it might be something to mention - just in case.
What do we know about the new COVID-19 Indian variant?
All viruses undergo genetic changes, called mutations. That includes coronavirus, which has "many, different mutations," says Dr Wild.
"Several of these mutations involve changes to the protein that the virus uses to attach itself to the surface of human cells. Changes to this part of the protein may – in theory – result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people," says Dr Wild, adding that there is "no evidence that any of these variants of the coronavirus causes more-severe illness."
The Indian variant is believed to be faster spreading, but looks as though the vaccines may still be effective against it. It hasn't yet been confirmed, but early studies suggest that the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do provide immunity against the new variant.
While a dry mouth hasn't been listed as a COVID symptom just yet by the World Health Organisation, other "less common" indicators of coronavirus include headache, diarrhoea, a rash, aches and pains, and more.
Beyond knowing all that, the most important thing to remember is to follow government guidance on protecting yourself and others from catching and spreading coronavirus. Make sure you're wearing a mask, socially distance where possible, and practising hand hygiene. "These measures should give the virus fewer chances to change," notes Dr Wild.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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