(NEXSTAR) — With the highly transmissible omicron variant spreading across the globe, people who test positive for COVID-19 may be wondering which mutation of the virus they have.
The delta variant has been dominant ever since it was discovered in December 2020, accounting for more than 99% of new COVID cases in the U.S. as of November, according to Yale Medicine, and causing a devastating spike in hospitalizations and deaths.
Scientists are now closely monitoring the spread of omicron, however, to determine its potential for causing severe illness and evading the protection of vaccines. As of Friday, the World Health Organization said there had been no documented deaths from omicron since it was identified in November by South African researchers.
So if you have COVID-19 and are wondering whether it’s omicron or delta, do tests show which variant you have? They do, but you won’t have access to them, unfortunately.
Results from a PCR or antigen test go on to labs at local health departments or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for genome sequencing. The process can take up to several weeks and helps public health officials track the spread and mutation of the coronavirus.
While you may not be able to get the lab test results, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Francisco, said that early data show a distinct difference in the reported symptoms from omicron compared to delta.
“I think what was interesting is what people didn’t have,” Dr. Chin-Hong said of recent cases documented in South Africa. “They didn’t have loss of taste and smell, they didn’t have as much shortness of breath or serious cough … that’s what we know so far.”
He added that fever also hasn’t been talked about very much when it comes to omicron cases.
European health officials released a study earlier this month showing that half of the first 70 omicron patients studied had no symptoms at all, with the other half experiencing “very mild” symptoms, Chin-Hong said.
The reported symptoms are largely flu-or cold-like with headaches, muscle aches or fatigue. So far, he adds, cases in the U.S. have also come with mild symptoms.
Chin-Hong cautioned that it’s still early days, however, and the variant may not have the same impact in the U.S. as it does in South Africa, where the population is younger and has fewer co-morbidities.
When it comes to recovering from either omicron or delta, he added, getting vaccinated is still the most effective way to prevent hospitalization and serious illness or death.