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Covid’s new summer strain and what to do if you catch it

Covid’s new summer strain and what to do if you catch it

The Euros are in full flow, Wimbledon is coming and we are on the brink of a General Election. We’ve long stopped wearing masks and abiding the rules of staying 2m apart but with summer socialising at full kilter and a summer Covid wave known as the “FLiRT” variant “building”, should we be rethinking our plans if we notice a sniffle?

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, says:

“There is a widespread impression of a growing 2024 summer wave, much as we saw in 2021 when (coincidently perhaps) there was also a Euros football tournament, and evidence that this contributed significantly to the spread of infection.

“The waves continue to be driven by a combination of new variants and a partial waning immunity to infection,” says Prof Woolhouse, author of The Year The World Went Mad. “For now, we have to expect this pattern to continue.”

Chris Smith is a medical consultant specialising in clinical microbiology and virology at Cambridge University, and is the host of the Naked Scientists podcast, says we shouldn’t panic. “The numbers do appear to be up, but are not necessarily higher than they were at this time last year. Possibly lower overall, but there appears to be a relative uptick overall recently.

“There’s no evidence people are “iller”. We’re seeing cases in hospitals “with” the virus, chiefly, rather than because of it, “ explains Dr Smith.  “That doesn’t mean it’s not a pain, because we still have to do effective infection control, which can frustrate normal processes and reduce available beds etc,” he adds.

If, however, you do find you’ve tested positive, here’s a refresher in Covid etiquette.

What are the latest Covid symptoms?

The official list of Covid symptoms has not changed, according to the UKHSA (the UK Health Security Agency). If you’re noticing the following, it is possible you have the disease (although keep in mind that many are similar to simply having a cold or flu):

  • a high temperature 
  • a new, continuous cough or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • an aching body
  • a headache or a sore throat
  • a blocked or runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling sick or being sick

I think I’ve got Covid but feel fine – should I test?

You don’t have to, and you can no longer get free lateral flow tests from the NHS. But if you might be around vulnerable people, or if you would rather not infect others, it’s a good idea. They’re still available to buy at high street chemists for £1.75 per test, or £8.75 for five tests.

“The virus is still incredibly dangerous to people in at-risk categories,” says Dr Mark Faghy, an associate professor in respiratory physiology at the University of Derby who leads several research projects on the virus. He explains that we are not out of the woods yet. “And some of the sub-variants we are seeing have a high level of transmissibility.”

I’ve got Covid but feel OK – should I go to work?

You can go to work even after testing positive for Covid and there is no legal obligation to tell your employer if you are infected. You also do not need to take a lateral flow test and there is no requirement to wear masks. But those with infections would be responsible to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people – especially the vulnerable. 

“If you are showing symptoms of Covid-19 or flu, help protect others by staying at home and avoiding contact with other people, especially those who are more vulnerable,” the UKHSA’s consultant epidemiologist Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal said.

Elderly people or those with weakened immune systems are more likely to fall seriously ill if they contract Covid.