Last year, Florida experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant. Now, the state is dealing with the Omicron variant, thought to be more transmissible, but also, more mild than previous iterations of the virus.

While PCR and rapid antigen Covid-19 testing is able to detect the difference in Covid-19 variants, this information is not disclosed to users. While most health experts say the differences may be too subtle to make a determination, there are some differences we can pick up on based on the severity of the illness and your vaccination status.

A health insurance company in South Africa, where Omicron originated, released data suggesting Omicron causes less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations than previous strains.

However, Omicron has the potential to cause similar symptoms, such as sore throat, nasal congestion and dry cough. Muscle pain, especially lower back pain, has also been reported.

Omicron may be less likely to cause loss of taste and smell.

A study by the National Institute of Health found 48 percent of patients with the original coronavirus strain reported a loss of smell and 41 percent reported a loss of taste. However, an analysis of a small Omicron outbreak in Norway found that only 23 percent of patients reported a loss of taste and only 12 percent reported a loss of smell. According to The New York Times, it is unclear whether these differences in loss of smell and taste are because of Omicron or another factor like vaccination status.

People with Omicron may report nausea and gastrointestinal issues more often.

In the same New York Times article, Dr. Andrew Pekosz from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says loss of smell is less prevalent with the new variant. So, patients may pay more attention to milder symptoms like nausea and dizziness.

The article also states that children and adults with Omicron may notice more gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea. This is because the virus can infect some cells in a patient's gastrointestinal tract.

Fatigue is a common symptom for all variants.

Both Omicron and previous iterations of the coronavirus cause fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, fatigue can be a long-term effect of Covid-19 infection. If you are trying to differentiate Covid fatigue from general burnout, pay attention to the symptom's length and severity. If fatigue doesn't improve with rest, is not brought on by any physical or mental exertion and comes with other symptoms, it is most likely due to Covid.

Omicron may cause milder cases in vaccinated individuals, and severe cases in unvaccinated.

A U.S. Covid-19 study has shown that vaccinated patients with Delta or the original coronavirus tend to have headache, congestion and sinus pain mimicking the common cold. Unvaccinated patients, however, are more likely to have severe symptoms like shortness of breath and cough. This may also be true for people infected with the Omicron variant.

Omicron has a shorter incubation time than other variants.

Information put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that Omicron has a shorter incubation time than other variants, resulting in its rapid spread throughout the United States. If a person is exposed, it can take as little as three days for them to develop symptoms, become contagious and test positive. This is in contrast to the four- to six-day window Delta and previous strains had.

Early research may suggest Omicron causes less damage to the lungs.

Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, conducted a study at the university on Omicron's cells. Gupta's studies found that Omicron does a worse job of infecting lung cells, because the virus cannot grab onto an important protein on the lung's surface.

"The fact that Omicron is not so good at entering lung cells and that it causes fewer fused cells with lower infection levels in the lab suggests this new variant may cause less severe lung-associated disease," said Gupta in a university article.

Ultimately, all strains of Covid-19 are considered upper respiratory illnesses, meaning they can affect individuals' upper respiratory tract in varying ways.

No matter the variant, cases are still on the rise in Sarasota-Manatee.

In the period from Wednesday, Dec. 22, to Tuesday, Jan. 4, 3,693 new Covid-19 cases were reported in Sarasota County and 3,663 were reported in Manatee County, according to New York Times data. Hospitalizations are also increasing, with 104 total Covid-19 patients at Sarasota Memorial Hospital as of Wednesday.

Getting vaccinated and following CDC guidelines for social distancing, testing and quarantine are the best options for protection against Omicron and other Covid-19 strains.

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