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What Does It Mean to Have Mild COVID-19?

It is now clear that the Omicron variant is so highly infectious, the majority of the population will be affected by it. Recent statistics in the US alone speak volumes: over 600,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported on January 26, 2022, which is actually a slightly lower average in the past few weeks.
But somehow, it feels like the public is much calmer about it now, partly because the Omicron variant seems to cause milder symptoms than Delta and other previous variants, especially in vaccinated individuals. As comforting as this wording - “mild symptoms” - sounds, it is also somewhat vague and misleading. What does it even mean to have mild COVID-19?
Mild COVID-19 fever

As you’re likely aware, COVID-19 severity is categorized into three groups: mild, moderate, and severe. But how do they differ?

The first thing one imagines when they hear “mild Covid” is having a low fever, sniffles, and maybe a sore throat for a few days. But this very hopeful definition we, non-professionals, imagine is very different from the way doctors see it.

Let’s begin by looking at the guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • Mild illness includes all symptoms of COVID-19 excluding shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Mind you, this includes symptoms like loss of taste and smell, fatigue, fever, muscle pain, headaches, cough, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Moderate illness may involve pneumonia or any other lower respiratory illness that doesn’t let blood oxygen levels drop below 94%.
  • Severe illness is characterized by blood oxygen levels below 94 percent, rapid breathing, and symptoms of severe lung disease, such as persistent chest pain, confusion, difficulty breathing, and bluish color of the lips or face.
Mild COVID-19 pills and tea

As you can see, this definition means that even a case that’s considered mild can be quite debilitating, comparable to the worst flu you’ve ever had. Even in mild to moderate COVID-19, symptoms typically last for at least 9-10 days, but this time period could be extended to weeks or months.

In some studies or countries, the division is even cruder - all COVID-19 cases are distinguished as either severe or non-severe. Keep this in mind when you listen to the news.

What’s more, researchers also know that even a seemingly mild illness can take an ugly turn at any point. And probably most importantly, you have to remember that both mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 can lead to long-term complications. Studies on long-haul COVID-19 suggest that nearly 25% of Covid patients who were asymptomatic or exhibited mild symptoms develop long-term symptoms such as fatigue, migraines, and brain fog. "You can have mild Covid and still be a long hauler," Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert stated to CNN.

So, even if you get a mild or asymptomatic infection, chances are that you will feel miserable for weeks or even months. You must also remember that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the Omicron variant.

Share this information with family and friends!

H/T: Huffington Post, Healthline, CNN

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