These Are the 2 Most Common Symptoms of the New FLiRT COVID Variant Doctors Are Seeing Right Now


female patient wearing mask over mouth is having sample taken from nose for a pcr test for covid 19

It’s been over four years since the pandemic hit, and while most people have returned to relatively normal lives, COVID-19 hasn’t gone away—but it has evolved.

According to late April 2024 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a new COVID variant, the unfortunately-named FLiRT KP.2 variant, is behind nearly 25% of all new cases and still on the rise. It’s rapidly outpacing the JN.1 variant, which was the most dominant this past winter and racked up about 22% of cases from the April data set. Another FLiRT variant, KP1.1, is behind about 7% of recent cases.

To reiterate what you’ve heard before, but may be ignoring now: COVID is still very serious, especially because of the potential for long COVID symptoms, which are still being studied to this day. It’s also extra dangerous for those with pre-existing conditions that could pose complications, as well as for people with compromised immune systems.

That said, we have a lot more information than ever before to work with, and knowledge is power. Here’s what you need to know about the newest COVID variants, their symptoms and how to protect yourself and others from infection.

Related: The Super Simple COVID Prevention Tip Most People Forget About, According to Infectious Disease Experts

The 2 Most Common COVID Symptoms Doctors Are Seeing Right Now

Infectious disease experts we spoke with were pretty unanimous: The two most common COVID-19 symptoms they’ve seen recently are fever and cough, which are both consistent with previous variants of the illness.

Additional COVID Symptoms Doctors Are Seeing

Fatigue was another one of the most common symptoms that doctors cited.

That said, part of what’s made COVID so tricky to treat and curb is that the symptoms vary from patient to patient, and some patients are asymptomatic and don’t show or feel any signs of infection at all, Dr. Dahlia Philips, MD., infectious disease physician and medical director of MetroPlusHealth’s Partnership in Care (PIC) Special Needs Plan, says.

According to Dr. Philips, other possible symptoms of this variant can include:

  • Body aches
  • Congestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

Related: Here’s What a COVID Sore Throat Feels Like—and How It’s Different From Other Types of Sore Throats

How Does the Current COVID-19 Subvariant Differ From Previous Waves?

Essentially, the difference comes in the viruses’ proteins.

“The FLiRT variants are derived from the JN.1 variant which came to dominate over the winter months,” Dr. S Wesley Long, MD., PhD., associate professor of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist and Weill Cornell Medical School tells Parade. “They have a variety of mutations but are characterized by two spike protein mutations (F456L and R346T), hence the name ‘FLiRT.’ The most successful FLiRT variant so far is known as KP.2 and is starting to be seen more frequently as a cause of COVID-19. These mutations have been seen before, in different variants, they are just now remixed in the JN.1 background.”

In practical terms, these changes can impact how the virus spreads and impacts people who get infected.

“First off, FLiRT seems to be a bit more adept at spreading than some of the previous strains. This means we’re seeing it pop up in more places and spreading a bit faster than what we’ve seen before,” says Dr. Christi Wojewoda, MD, FCAP, a pathologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an associate professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM in Burlington. “FLiRT appears to have some changes in its spike protein. You know, that little knob-like structure on the virus that helps it latch onto cells? Well, FLiRT’s spike protein seems to have some alterations, which could potentially make it more infectious.”

Thankfully, Dr. Wojewoda notes that FLiRT variants don’t appear to cause more severe illness than other strains, “So while it might be spreading a bit more efficiently, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s making people sicker.” Phew!

Related: This Thermostat Setting Could Help Protect You From the New COVID Variant, According to Infectious Disease Experts

How To Manage COVID-19 Symptoms

If you think you have COVID-19, whether the FLiRT variant or any other, the best course of action is to talk to your physician ASAP to get it handled, Dr. Wojewoda says.

“If you’re experiencing any of
these, especially if they’re severe or persistent, it’s important to reach out to your doctor,” Dr. Wojewoda advises. “The
earlier you catch it, the better you can manage it, so don’t hesitate to get tested if you’re not
feeling right.”

Depending on your symptoms and severity, your doctor may be able to prescribe Paxlovid or remdesivir, or simply recommend what to do to recover at home and which over-the-counter medications would be best for you.

Aside from seeing a doctor if you’re feeling ill, the advice is pretty much the same as it’s been for four years: Stay home if you can, and if you have to go out, mask up. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, stay hydrated and rest as much as you can.

Related: Here’s What We Actually Know About the Link Between Vitamin D and COVID

How To Keep Yourself and Others Safe From COVID-19

A crucial part of keeping yourself and others from spreading COVID-19 is to pay attention if you’re not feeling well. 

“We are not in flu season, so if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it may be a sign that you have been exposed to COVID-19,” Dr. Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, Dr.P.H., social epidemiologist and director and founding dean of the program in public health in the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences at University of California, Irvine, warns. “You must test as soon as you experience symptoms for two reasons. First, if you test early, you can receive antiviral treatment earlier and reduce the chance of severe symptoms. Second, vulnerable communities like the elderly, pregnant people and the unvaccinated are highly susceptible, so testing early helps you make the informed decision to stay home and take care of yourself and your community.”

Another key part of staying safe is staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. Booster rates have been alarmingly low for eligible patients, which is, to put it mildly, a real bummer for public health.

“As a public health leader, I will always strive to remind our community of the substantial evidence backing the effectiveness of vaccines,” Dr. Boden-Albala stresses. “They can either completely prevent infection or stop people from experiencing severe illness that requires hospitalization.”

According to Dr. Boden-Albala, it’s important to make sure your vaccines are up to date and that you’re getting boosters as needed—and the recommendations vary by age: “The CDC continues to recommend everyone aged 5 years and older should get one dose of an updated COVID-19 vaccine, and people aged 65 years and older who received one dose of any updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine should receive one additional dose of an updated COVID-19 vaccine at least four months after the previous updated dose.”

Next, Here’s How Long COVID Is Contagious After You Get a Positive Test



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