We're almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic here in the UK, and at this stage we'd probably all back ourselves to get some kind of qualification in the key symptoms of COVID-19. The most common signs of the perilous virus are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste - but they aren't the only indicators you might have caught it.
As we well know, in the latter months of last year, a new variant of COVID began spreading in the UK. It is believed to be significantly more transmissible than the original virus, and researchers are still investigating whether there are any other characteristics we should know about. So far, it seems the symptoms of the new variant are much the same as those of the primary virus. However, there has been some anecdotal evidence that headaches are a particular symptom people are noticing with the new variant.
Are headaches a sign of the new COVID strain?
Over on Twitter, there's lots of chat about headaches increasingly manifesting as a sign of COVID. 'New variant COVID has a different symptom profile. Not loss of smell & taste, but headache like eye strain and then temple throbbing. Also backache,' wrote one person. 'Our experience in a new variant hotspot at the moment is that the initial symptoms are headache and nausea,' shared another.
Just want to say that several people I know who got covid had a weird ache beforehand. Eg a bad headache or leg or pelvic ache, which went away and they felt fine for a few days with no other symptoms, but then the other symptoms kicked in and they tested positive.
— Sophie Heawood (@heawood) January 10, 2021
On the World Health Organisation's website, a headache is listed as one of the 'less common' symptoms of coronavirus, along with diarrhoea, a rash, aches and pains, and more. So, what does a UK-based doctor think about the suggestion that headaches could be an indicator of the new variant?
This is so important. I had Covid, even though I barely had a fever (one day only, and very low to the point it was borderline). After a single day coughing, my main symptoms were headache and fatigue. Could have easily not got tested. The guidance needs to change. https://t.co/X0lwAXeLM2
— Samira Shackle (@samirashackle) January 12, 2021
'There have been a few studies that have previously linked headaches to the virus. However, more research still needs to be carried out to establish whether headaches are a main symptom of any mutations of the virus,' Dr Samantha Wild, GP at Bupa UK says. 'We’re still very much learning about these new variants,' she adds.
The current guidance doesn't recommend going to have a test based on a headache alone, so Dr Wild advises 'continuing to monitor your symptoms and looking at the NHS website for any updates,' for anyone who's currently experiencing headaches but nothing else. 'If you’re experiencing significant headaches without any other symptoms, it may still be worth [ringing up] a GP. They can be linked to many different conditions, so a doctor can help diagnose the cause,' she suggests, adding: 'You could also call 111 if you’re unsure or worried about any symptoms you have.'
What are the key signs of COVID?
The doctor reiterates that the core COVID symptoms currently apply to any variant of the virus. '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,' she says. 'If you’re [talking to ] a doctor based on these symptoms, it is worth discussing other issues, such as headaches, at the same time.'
Dr Wild also points out that headaches are commonly experienced by those with Long COVID (where you’ve had the virus and you’re still experiencing symptoms). 'These can vary in severity and duration,' she says, urging who believes they might have Long COVID to seek advice from their doctor.
What do we know about the new COVID-19 variant?
All viruses – like the coronavirus – undergo genetic changes, called mutations. The COVID-19 mutation which has been identified in the UK has 'many, different mutations,' explains the doctor.
'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 most important thing to remember is to follow government guidance on protecting yourself and others from catching and spreading coronavirus. Stay at home unless you're leaving for one of the authorised exemptions (including outdoor exercise, seeking medical care, going to work in a job that can't be done from home, and more) and any time you do leave the house, make sure you're wearing a mask, social distancing and practising hand hygiene. 'These measures should give the virus fewer chances to change,' notes Dr Wild.
It goes without saying that if you become unwell and experience any of the common symptoms, you should self-isolate and arrange a coronavirus test.
The doctor adds that as well as protecting ourselves physically, we should also be doing it mentally. 'If you are feeling anxious, pause to take a few deep breaths and accept that your anxiety will pass. It can be helpful to write a list of the things on your mind, as well as talking to someone you trust. Opening-up about how you feel to your loved ones can be a huge relief. Alternatively, speaking to your doctor can help. There’s always support available.'
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.
Sign up to the Men's Health newsletter and kickstart your home body plan. Make positive steps to become healthier and mentally strong with all the best fitness, muscle-building and nutrition advice delivered to your inbox.
For effective home workouts, uplifting stories, easy recipes and advice you can trust, buy six issues of Men's Health UK.
You Might Also Like