Signs and Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Coronaviruses are a diverse family of viruses that can infect both humans and animals. Several types of coronaviruses cause mild upper respiratory illness in humans. Others, such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, can cause more severe respiratory illness.
In late 2019, a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 emerged in China. This virus has since spread to many other countries throughout the world. An infection with SARS-CoV-2 causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19.
COVID-19 can have potentially serious complications, such as trouble breathing and pneumonia. Because of this, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and how they differ from other conditions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 is 4 daysTrusted Source. However, it can range anywhere from 2 to 14 days.
Not everyone with a SARS-CoV-2 infection will feel unwell. It’s possible to have the virus and not develop symptoms. When symptoms are present, they’re typically mild and develop slowly. The most common symptoms are:
Some people with COVID-19 may sometimes experience additional symptoms, such as:
Some observations suggest that respiratory symptoms may worsen in the second week of illness. This appears to occur after 8 or 9 daysTrusted Source.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1 in 5 peopleTrusted Source with COVID-19 become seriously ill. These individuals can develop severe pneumonia or respiratory failure and may require oxygen or mechanical ventilation.
Coronaviruses are actually one of the many types of viruses that can cause the common cold. In fact, it’s estimated that four types of human coronavirus account for 10 to 30 percentTrusted Source of upper respiratory infections in adults.
Some symptoms of the common cold are:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches and pains
How can you tell if you have a cold or COVID-19? Consider your symptoms. A cold is typically precededTrusted Source by a sore throat and runny nose, which are less common symptoms of COVID-19.
Additionally, fever isn’t as common in a cold.
You may have heard COVID-19 being compared to the flu, a common seasonal respiratory illness. How can you tell the difference between the symptoms of these two infections?
First off, the symptoms of the flu often come on suddenlyTrusted Source while COVID-19 symptoms appear to develop more gradually. Common symptoms of the flu include:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches and pains
- vomiting or diarrhea
As you can see, there’s some overlap in symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu, such as cough, fever, and fatigue. However, it’s important to note that many common symptoms of the flu are observed less often in cases of COVID-19.
The WHO also notesTrusted Source the following differences between the two:
- The flu has a shorter incubation period than that of COVID-19.
- Transmitting the virus prior to developing symptoms drives many influenza infections but doesn’t appear to play as much of a role for COVID-19.
- The percentage of people who develop serious symptoms or complications appears higher for COVID-19 than for the flu.
- COVID-19 appears to impact children with less frequency than the flu does.
- There’s currently no vaccine or antivirals available for COVID-19. However, interventions are available for the flu.
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is another condition that may cause respiratory symptoms. It occurs due to exposure to allergens in your environment, such as pollen, mold, dust, or pet dander.
The symptoms of hay fever include:
One of the hallmark symptoms of hay fever is itching, which isn’t observed in COVID-19. Additionally, hay fever isn’t associated with symptoms like fever or shortness of breath
If you think that you have symptoms of COVID-19, here’s what to do:
- Monitor your symptoms. Not everyone with COVID-19 requires hospitalization. However, keeping track of your symptoms is important since they may worsen in the second week of illness.
- Contact your doctor. Even if your symptoms are mild, it’s still a good idea to call your doctor to let them know about your symptoms and any potential exposure risks.
- Get tested. Your doctor can work with local health authorities and the CDC to evaluate your symptoms and risk of exposure to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
- Stay isolated. Plan to isolate yourself at home until your infection has cleared up. Try to stay separated from other people in your home, using a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible.
- Seek care. If your symptoms worsen, seek prompt medical care. Be sure to call ahead before you arrive at a clinic or hospital. Wear a face mask, if available.
You’re at an increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 if you’ve been:
- living or traveling in an area where COVID-19 illness is widespread or community transmission is occurring
- in close contact with someone who has a confirmed infection
Doctors are still trying to understand who is at an increased risk for severe COVID-19. Currently, the risk factors for severe disease appear to be:
Follow the tips below to help protect yourself and others from a SARS-CoV-2 infection:
- Wash your hands. Be sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. If this isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face. Touching your face or mouth if you haven’t washed your hands can transfer the virus to these areas and potentially make you sick.
- Maintain distance. Avoid close contact with people who are ill. If you’re around someone that’s coughing or sneezing, try to stay at least 3 feetTrusted Source away.
- Don’t share personal items. Sharing items such as eating utensils and drinking glasses can potentially spread the virus.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Try to cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue. Be sure to promptly dispose of any used tissues.
- Stay home if you’re sick. If you’re already ill, plan to stay at home until you recover.
- Clean surfaces. Use household cleaning sprays or wipes to clean high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards, and countertops.
- Keep yourself informed. The CDC continuously updates informationTrusted Source as it becomes available and the WHO publishes daily situation reportsTrusted Source.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that’s caused by an infection with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The main symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, and shortness of breath.
Since COVID-19 can become serious, it’s important to recognize how its symptoms differ from other conditions. You can do this by carefully considering your symptoms, their development, and your risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
If you think that you have COVID-19, call your doctor. They can help determine if you need to be tested. Plan to stay at home until you’ve recovered, but always seek emergency treatment if your symptoms begin to worsen.
There are currently no vaccines or antivirals available for COVID-19. However, simple measures can help protect you and others. These include things like frequent handwashing, not touching your face, and staying home when sick.