The most common symptoms of Covid-19 appear to be milder than they were at the beginning of the epidemic, new data shows. So, what looks like a mild flu — or the flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — may actually be COVID-19. And that could be because new coronavirus variants are taking over.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two emerging Omicron subtypes — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — now account for nearly 70% of all COVID-19 cases in the US. The previously dominant BA.5 variant now accounts for only 11% of cases in the country.

As these new variants continue to develop, the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 may be slightly different from what we’ve seen earlier in the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about how things have changed and how to stay safe as the virus spreads this winter.

Now the most common symptoms of covid-19

In the early days of the outbreak, COVID-19 came with a short list of characteristic symptoms, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell. According to the CDC, these are still some of the symptoms of the coronavirus, but new data from the ongoing Zoe Health Study suggest that the spectrum of symptoms of Covid-19 has changed over the past few years.

As of December 13, smartphone data from Zoe Health Research shows that the 10 most commonly reported symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • sore throat
  • Nasal discharge
  • A blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough without sputum (dry cough)
  • Headache
  • Cough with phlegm (wet cough)
  • Strong voice
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • The sense of smell has changed

In the past, Zoe Health Research has regularly shared the five most common symptoms its users are experiencing. “However, over time we have seen that these change frequently. Therefore, we are now reporting the top 10 most stable indicators,” the company said in its report.

Experts generally believe that the symptoms of Kovid-19 are decreasing over time, said Dr. Otto Yang Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, previously told TODAY.com.

That’s probably because the Omicron subvariants “tend to stay longer in the upper respiratory tract,” Yang explained, meaning the virus doesn’t infect the lungs as much as it used to.

Being up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters — or providing some degree of protection against a pre-existing infection — can also make people less likely to experience symptoms of COVID-19, Young said. “A fully vaccinated and up-to-date person may have such mild symptoms and not even test themselves,” he added.

When to test for covid-19

Because Covid-19 shares symptoms with many other illnesses that are spreading this year, you shouldn’t hesitate to get tested at home.

Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, told TODAY.com earlier that “what people really need to understand is that we are now in flu season and RSV season — and still have COVID hanging around.” So, if you start experiencing common symptoms like a cough, congestion or sore throat, that’s a good time to get a quick diagnosis, she said.

If you’ve been exposed to someone with Covid-19, you should get tested five days after exposure, the CDC says, even if you don’t have symptoms at that point.

Amidst the winter holidays, use rapid at-home Covid-19 tests to make your gatherings safer before meeting up with friends and family – especially those who are immunocompromised or have other risk factors more likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms.

That’s especially helpful for people in areas with moderate or high community transmission of Covid-19, the CDC says, which currently covers about half of the country.

Starting December 15, American families can order four free at-home Covid-19 tests from the government to help reduce the spread of the virus. If you haven’t already, now is the time to stock up.

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