What are the new top 5 COVID symptoms?

June 23, 2021

As with all viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is rapidly evolving both its ability to spread and infect people, as well as the symptoms it causes.

You can check out our symptom series blog for more information on each symptom.

Thanks to your daily reports on the ZOE COVID Study app, we have managed to identify the current top 5 symptoms that have emerged in recent weeks, and they differ depending on if you’ve been vaccinated, and how many doses you’ve had.

The symptoms rankings below are based on your reports in the app alone and do not take into account which variant caused the virus or demographic information.

There are a few reasons why symptoms may be changing, including the fact that those who have been vaccinated experience less severe symptoms, as well as more cases being reported by younger people, who we have found experience different, less severe symptoms as well.

Log your symptoms now to get a test.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 if you’re fully vaccinated?

Generally, we saw similar symptoms of COVID-19 being reported overall in the app by people who had and hadn’t been vaccinated. However, fewer symptoms were reported over a shorter period of time by those who had already had a jab, suggesting that they were falling less seriously ill and getting better more quickly.

Here is the current ranking of COVID symptoms after 2 vaccinations:

  1. Runny nose
  2. Headache
  3. Sneezing
  4. Sore throat
  5. Persistent cough

The previous ‘traditional’ symptoms as still outlined on the government website, such as anosmia (loss of smell), shortness of breath and fever rank way down the list, at 6, 29 and 8 respectively. A persistent cough now ranks at number 5 if you’ve had two vaccine doses, so is no longer the top indicator of having COVID.

Curiously, we noticed that people who had been vaccinated and then tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to report sneezing as a symptom compared with those without a jab.

If you’ve been vaccinated and start sneezing a lot without an explanation, you should get a COVID test, especially if you are living or working around people who are at greater risk from the disease.

Log your symptoms now to get a test.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 if you’ve had only one vaccine dose?

The ranking changes again after one dose of the vaccination as observed below:

  1. Headache
  2. Runny nose
  3. Sore throat
  4. Sneezing
  5. Persistent cough

As we can see, after the protection from only once vaccine, one of the original indicators of a persistent cough has made the top 5 symptoms, but still comes below sneezing and a runny nose in rankings, which were previously thought to be unrelated to infection.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 if you’re unvaccinated?

If you’ve not yet been vaccinated, then the symptoms are more recognisable to the traditional original ranking, however we can still observe some changes from when COVID-19 first appeared over a year ago.

  1. Headache
  2. Sore Throat
  3. Runny Nose
  4. Fever
  5. Persistent cough

Loss of smell comes in at number 9 and shortness of breath comes far down the list at number 30, indicating the symptoms as recorded previously are changing with the evolving variants of the virus.

What can I do to help?

Our results are based on your vaccine records and daily symptom reports, so it’s really important that you continue to log your health with ZOE in order for us to continue monitoring regional hotspots, and the changing symptom ranking. 

As we have found, even people who have had one or two doses of the vaccination can still be susceptible to contracting COVID, and the symptoms and severity differ depending on how many vaccinations you’ve had, if any.

What should I do if I have any symptoms?

Right now, you can only get an NHS COVID test if you have a cough, fever or loss of smell. But you can get a test through the ZOE COVID Symptom Study if you log any of the known symptoms in the app

Log your symptoms now to get a test.

If you’ve been vaccinated and start sneezing a lot without an explanation, you should stay home and get a COVID test, especially if you’re living or working around people who are at greater risk from the disease.

Sneezing is a key way that viruses spread. Try to cover all coughs and sneezes with tissue or the inside of your elbow to minimise the spread of droplets. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth until you wash your hands.

As more people are vaccinated it’s important we keep up with regular lateral flow tests to detect the increasing number of asymptomatic infections. 

Sneezing a lot could be a potential sign that someone vaccinated has COVID-19 and, however mild, should take a test and self-isolate to protect their friends, family and colleagues.

Whether you’ve had both COVID jabs or not, we all still need to be careful to follow the advice on ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ to protect your own health as well as those around you in your family, workplace and community.

Stay safe and keep logging.

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