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COVID Symptoms — Frequently Asked Questions
Lisa Maragakis, infection prevention expert at Johns Hopkins, provides answers to common questions related to symptoms of COVID-19.
COVID Symptoms — Frequently Asked Questions
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Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H.
Updated on January 27, 2022
Do you know the symptoms of COVID-19? Knowing the warning signs can help you take the right steps if you or loved ones become sick. Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System, explains what to look for and when to get help.
What are symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms are:
Cough Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Diarrhea Headache Fatigue Nausea or vomiting
Congestion or runny nose
Some of these symptoms are very common and can occur due to many conditions other than COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus called SARS CoV-2. If you have any of the symptoms, contact a doctor or other health care provider, who can assess your risk and help you determine the next steps.
Emergency Warning Signs of Severe COVID-19 — When to Call 911
If you or someone in your household is experiencing any of the following symptoms, call 911 or your local emergency room right away and let the operator know that you are calling for someone who might have COVID-19:
Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
Inability to wake up or stay awake
Bluish lips or face
There are other possible symptoms of COVID-19. Call your doctor or health care center regarding any symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
When should I contact a doctor about my symptoms?
If you feel ill, call your doctor’s office or health care center and explain your symptoms over the phone. The next steps will be discussed, including whether you should have a coronavirus test. If it turns out that you have COVID-19, mild cases can be managed at home with rest and self-isolation. If you become severely ill, you may need hospital care.
If I’m exposed to the coronavirus, how long will it be before I might develop symptoms?
Symptoms can begin two to 14 days after you have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that the median time for symptoms to show up is about five days, however, CDC research suggests that the median time for omicron symptoms to develop is about three days.
If you suspect you were exposed to or had close contact with someone with COVID-19, you should self-quarantine, watch for symptoms and consider getting tested four or five days following the exposure. Exposure is contact with someone infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in a way that increases the likelihood of becoming infected with the virus. Close contact is being less than 6 feet away from an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinical diagnosis) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period.
Please review CDC guidelines for isolation and quarantine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19
What are the first symptoms of coronavirus infection?
Early symptoms reported by some people include fatigue, headache, sore throat and fever. Others experience a loss of smell or taste. COVID-19 can cause symptoms that are mild at first, but then become more intense over five to seven days, with worsening cough and shortness of breath. Some people who have COVID-19 develop pneumonia.
The type and severity of first symptoms can vary widely from person to person. This is why it is very important to call your doctor if you have symptoms, even mild ones.
Can you have the coronavirus without a fever?
Yes. A fever is one of the common symptoms of COVID-19, but you can be infected with the coronavirus and have a cough or other symptoms with no fever, or a very low-grade one — especially in the first few days. Keep in mind that it is also possible to have the coronavirus with minimal symptoms or even no symptoms at all. People infected with the coronavirus who have no symptoms can still spread the virus to others.
Can you have the coronavirus without a cough?
Yes. A cough is one of the common symptoms of COVID-19, but it is not always present. You can be infected with the coronavirus and not have a cough. If you do have one, it may be mild and infrequent, or you may cough heavily at times. Remember that it is possible to have COVID-19 with minimal symptoms or even no symptoms at all. People infected with the coronavirus who have no symptoms can still spread the virus to others.
Can COVID-19 symptoms come and go?
Yes. During the recovery process, people with COVID-19 might experience recurring symptoms alternating with periods of feeling better. Varying degrees of fever, fatigue and breathing problems can occur, on and off, for days or even weeks.
Can you have COVID-19 without symptoms?
Coronavirus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
COVID-19 is highly contagious and does not yet have an approved vaccine. Symptoms may include a cough, a fever, and a new loss of taste or smell.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Last Updated January 2022 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP
Table of Contents
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus call SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses, which infect people and some animals, spread through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and even talking. SARS-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus identified in 2019 that causes COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2, like other viruses, is able to mutate when it spreads between people. These mutations lead to variants that can behave differently from the original virus strain, like the Delta and Omicron variants that are circulating now. These variants can be transmitted between people more easily, produce different symptoms, and cause severe disease.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe. It takes 2-14 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may include:
Fever Cough Shortness of breath Chills
Repeated shaking with chills
Muscle pain or aches
Headache Sore throat
New loss of taste or smell
Runny nose and/or congestion
You may never develop symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19, which is referred to as being asymptomatic. But you can still spread the virus to others without symptoms.
What causes a COVID-19 infection?
The most common way to get COVID-19 is by inhaling respiratory droplets in the air. When a person with COVID-19 breathes, coughs, or sneezes, tiny droplets leave their mouth and nose and go into the air. You can’t see these droplets. If you’re within 6 feet of that person, you may breathe in those droplets. You won’t know you’ve done it. But you may get the germs that cause COVID-19 in your body.
COVID-19 also can be shared if you touch a surface an infected person has touched. Some examples include door handles, elevator buttons and shopping carts. The germs can get into your body if you then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
If you believe you have COVID-19, the first step is to get a test. Testing availability may differ depending on where you live. Check your local health department to see what locations near you are doing testing. This may include hospitals and pharmacies that offer drive-thru testing. This will allow you to stay in your car to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. Depending on the location, someone may approach your car to collect a sample, or they may ask you to collect it yourself. Samples for COVID-19 viral tests are collected through nasal swabs. Depending on where you get your test, you may get your results the same day or you may have to wait a few days. Find out more about COVID-19 testing.
If you have, or believe you have COVID-19, you should self-isolate to prevent spreading the infection. It’s also important to remember that even if you get a negative test, you may still need to self-isolate if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. This is because it can take time after exposure for your sample to show a COVID-19 infection.
Do I need to quarantine if I have been exposed to COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their quarantine and isolation guidance in January 2022.
If you have been exposed to COVID-19, are fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms, you do not have to quarantine, but should get tested within 5 days or if symptoms emerge.
If you received a positive COVID-19 test, or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should stay at home and away from other people for 5 days, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask. You should avoid travel and contact with high-risk individuals as a precaution.
Keep in mind that local officials may determine quarantine requirements for different states or counties. Reducing the length of quarantine may not be an option in all areas. If you need to quarantine, you should follow any local requirements and recommendations.
Can COVID-19 be prevented or avoided?
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you – and others around you – from getting very ill from COVID-19. Wearing well-fitting masks in public settings is very effective at preventing spread of the virus. While any mask will provide protection, people are encouraged to wear higher quality masks (KN95, Kf94, or N95) when possible. Even if you wear a mask, you should still avoid people who are sick or be cautious in large crowds. Stay home if you are sick and talk with your doctor about getting tested. Cover your cough with a tissue, or cough into your upper sleeve or elbow. Do not cough into your hands.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
As with a cold or the flu, drink fluids and get plenty of rest. Symptoms of COVID-19 usually go away on their own. If symptoms feel worse than a common cold, contact your doctor. He or she may prescribe pain or fever medication. If you are having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical care.
The 21 symptoms of COVID
There are many more symptoms of COVID-19 than the ‘classic three’ of cough, fever and loss of smell. If you’re newly unwell, it could be COVID-19 and you can get a test through the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app.
The 21 symptoms of COVID-19 to watch out for
March 18, 2021
This article has not been updated recently
A year ago we knew little about the new viral disease that was sweeping the world, which quickly became known as COVID-19.
At first, it looked like the main symptoms of coronavirus infection were a high temperature and a persistent cough. But it soon became clear that there was more to COVID than cough and fever.
Thanks to the millions of daily health reports logged by 4+ million contributors to the ZOE COVID Symptom Study, we now know that there are more than 20 different symptoms of the disease.
Of course, having one or more of these symptoms does not mean it’s definitely due to COVID-19, as they can also occur with other illnesses. However, these symptoms have been reported more often by people who have a positive test than those testing negative.
Here’s a list of the symptoms we know about so far. Follow the links to find out more about what each symptom is like, how common it is, and what other symptoms you’re likely to experience alongside it: