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Cold-like Symptoms 'Twice as Likely to be COVID' as UK Cases Reach New Record

On average 1 in 15 (7%) people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID-19, according to the latest figures extrapolated from the ZOE symptom app study, which suggested 349,773 new daily symptomatic cases - a new record for the UK - as of July 11. This equates to 4,445,058 people currently predicted to have symptomatic COVID in the UK, the ZOE website stated.

Lead scientist and ZOE co-founder Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said: "COVID is still rampant in the population. ZOE Health Study data shows that there were over 350,000 daily COVID cases this week- a new record for the UK. So much so, that if you have any cold-like symptoms at the moment it’s nearly twice as likely to be COVID as a cold."

In April, the NHS expanded its official list of coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms from the original three (fever, cough, and loss of taste or smell sense) to 12, with the addition of nine new symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • An aching body
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea or vomiting

Expanded Symptom List to Encourage Self-isolation

These symptoms are very similar to those of other illnesses, such as colds and flu, the NHS said. At the time – at the end of March when, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 1 in 13 people in England had the virus – Prof Spector tweeted: "NHS official Main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) have finally changed after 2 years of lobbying and Zoe app user input - hurrah!” The change, he said, could help to reduce infections by enabling people – and employers – to recognise symptoms such as runny nose or sore throat as COVID and encouraging them to isolate.

Commenting on today’s figures, Prof Spector said: “The top symptoms to keep an eye on include sore throat, blocked nose and dry cough.  

The good news is that case numbers won’t rise indefinitely and we’re already seeing a slight drop in numbers day to day. Although we all want to make the most of the good weather, people will need to decide for themselves whether going to large events, working from the office or using busy public transport is worth the risk.”

Top 20 Symptoms Reported by App Users

The top 20 symptoms reported by ZOE app users this week and attributed to Omicron BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5 variants were:

Top 20 COVID Symptoms
  Symptoms Prevalence (%)


Sore throat 57.74
2 Headache 49.46
3 Blocked nose 40.37
4 Cough no phlegm 40.03
5 Runny nose 39.6
6 Cough with phlegm 36.69
7 Hoarse voice 34.76
8 Sneezing 31.86
9 Fatigue 27.04
10 Muscle pains aches 25.32
11 Dizzy light headed 18.34
12 Swollen neck glands 15.33
13 Eye soreness 13.81
14 Altered smell 12.97
15 Chest pains tightness 12.83
16 Fever 12.82
17 Chills or shivers 11.91
18 Shortness of breath 11.04
19 Ear ache 10.57
20 Loss of smell 10.03

People Still Catching COVID Despite Vaccination or Antibodies

Latest estimates of symptomatic infections come despite high levels of vaccination - figures released on Tuesday show vaccination rates in England up to and including July 12:

  • 93.3% first dose
  • 87.4% second dose
  • 68.8% booster or third dose

In addition, almost all people now have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, suggesting they have either previously been infected with COVID-19 or vaccinated. Latest Government figures for the week beginning June 13, 2022 showed the percentages of adults estimated to have antibodies at or above a 179 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) level were:

  • 97.7% in England
  • 97.6% in Wales
  • 97.9% in Northern Ireland
  • 97.0% in Scotland

Prof Spector said: "Even if people have had a past infection and are fully vaccinated, people are still catching it. This is because there are multiple COVID variants coexisting at the same time (BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5)."

Estimates from the latest ZOE figures put the UK R-value around 1.1, with regional R values: England 1.1, Wales 1.1 and Scotland, 1.0.

Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 Much Milder Than Alpha Variant

Fortunately, as reported previously on Medscape UK, although the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Omicron are both more transmissible and increasingly able to evade vaccine-induced antibodies, serious infection rates remain low.

In the latest figures released by the Government last week, for the week ending June 29 for England and Northern Ireland and June 30, 2022 for Wales and Scotland, estimated percentages of the community population that had COVID-19 were: 

  • 3.95% in England (1 in 25 people)
  • 4.93% in Wales (1 in 20 people)
  • 5.36% in Northern Ireland (1 in 19 people)
  • 5.94% in Scotland (1 in 17 people)

Although the overall hospital admission rate of COVID-19-confirmed patients in England increased for the week ending July 3, 2022, to 14.59 per 100,000 people, intensive care unit (ICU) and high dependency unit (HDU) admission rates remained low, at 0.39 per 100,000 people. All figures for admissions and ICU/HDU rates included everyone with a positive COVID-19 test, including those admitted for other reasons.

Deaths involving COVID-19 over the whole of the UK similarly remained low, increasing from 347 to 412 in the week ending July 1, with the increase largely attributable to older age groups. This compares with a weekly death rate of almost 10,000 at the peak of the Alpha variant in January 2021, even though the latest figures showed current infection levels higher than at the Alfa peak, when admission rates were twice as high and ICU/HDU levels over six times higher than with the current Omicron variants.

Lead Image Credit: iStock / Getty Images