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8 Surprising Side Effects of New COVID Variants

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Times change. So do viruses, including COVID-19. Although you might have basically memorized the telltale signs of the virus from coverage of its first few waves, the latest COVID variants seem to be producing slightly different symptoms—including some that are downright weird. These are eight side effects of the new COVID variants that might surprise you. 

Night Sweats


EG.5 (currently the dominant variant in the United States, accounting for about 25% of cases) is producing this uncomfortable symptom. During an interview earlier this month with Irish radio station NewsTalk, Luke O'Neill, a professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, said: "One extra symptom from BA.5 I saw this morning is night sweats. Isn't that strange?"



XBB.1.16, also known as Arcturus on social media, is the third most common variant, accounting for about 11% of U.S. cases, according to the CDC. Doctors say it may cause pinkeye or conjunctivitis. "The most distinct aspect of (Arcturus) is that it has a tendency to produce inflammation of the external part of the eye and eyelids," Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Those affected may experience itching, redness, swelling and tearing, or discharge that lasts for about a week.

Not This Symptom

Woman trying to sense smell of fresh tangerine orange

Loss of taste or smell—which for so long was a telltale sign of COVID-19—is no longer common with the latest variants, experts say. "Our research has shown that incidents of COVID-related smell and taste loss have dramatically changed over the course of the pandemic, to the point now that smell loss is no longer a common symptom of infection," said Evan Reiter, the medical director of Virginia Commonwealth University Health's Smell and Taste Disorders Center, who led a study released in July.


Woman Scratching Itching Body Skin With Allergy

New Scientist reported this week that the latest variants are producing rashes.

Intense Symptoms


Researchers are closely watching the BA.2.86 variant (also known as Pirola), even though it hasn't spread enough to show up on CDC statistics. That's because it's a highly mutated Omicron variant, which could affect symptoms or transmissibility. "It's difficult to differentiate a headache specifically caused by the Pirola variant from those caused by other strains or common illnesses," Dr. Chris Papadopoulos, principal lecturer in public health at the University of Bedfordshire, recently told the UK Express. However, "There's a possibility that headaches, or any other symptoms, could be particularly intense due to the high number of mutations in the spike protein."



This uncomfortable GI symptom is also a presenting symptom of the new variants, New Scientist reported this week.

Blue Legs


A new report published this month in the Lancet detailed the case of a man with long COVID whose legs turned blue after 10 minutes of standing. The man said he'd seen the discoloration since his COVID-19 infection. He was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate upon standing.

High Blood Pressure


A recent study published in Hypertension found that 21% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 developed high blood pressure, compared to 11% of those who weren't hospitalized with the virus. Experts say COVID's tendency to negatively affect the lining of the veins and arteries is likely to blame.

What Are the Current Variants?


The most prevalent subvariant circulating now is EG.5 (also known as Eris) followed by a strain called FL.1.5.1 (nicknamed Fornax on social media). Both of them are subvariants of the original Omicron strain, which became widespread in November 2021. EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 are driving the latest increase in COVID infections: According to CDC data, EG.5 accounts for about 25% of cases nationwide, and FL.1.5.1 is 14%. 

 RELATED: Surprising Signs You've Already Had COVID

What About Pirola?


Researchers are watching another subvariant closely. BA.2.86 (known as Pirola) is a highly mutated strain of Omicron. But it hasn't infected enough people to register on the CDC's official counts. The states where the new variant has been reported are Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Ohio.

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