Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have said that the most common symptoms in people with the new coronavirus are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. But as outbreaks have spread around the world and health providers have learned more about the new disease, it’s become clear that these are not the only signs.
In late April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded its list of common symptoms to include the following:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell.
These are early signs that a person may have contracted the virus. They may appear anywhere from two days to two weeks after exposure. Many of these symptoms overlap with those of other conditions, such as the flu. A growing number of cities offer coronavirus testing for people with one or more symptoms.
The CDC emphasizes that this list does not include all possible symptoms. Some people with COVID-19, for example, report headaches and gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Some develop “pink eye,” or conjunctivitis. Doctors have reported cases of foot inflammation, dubbed “COVID toe,” in a small number of patients.
A recent patient-led survey of 640 people with COVID-19 by members of the Body Politic collective found that 82% reported fatigue, 76% reported chills or sweats, 74% reported body aches, 72% reported headache, 69% reported difficulty concentrating or “brain fog,” 67% said they had gastrointestinal symptoms, 66% had trouble sleeping and 61% reported dizziness. A majority (72%) had a low-grade fever under 100.1°F, but less than half (48%) had a higher temperature.
Some people with the coronavirus never experience common symptoms like fever or cough. Shortness of breath may occur later in those with more severe illness. What’s more, it appears that many people do not develop any symptoms. Some studies that have tested specific populations (say, everyone in a neighborhood or a homeless shelter) suggest that as many as half may be asymptomatic. This is partly why the virus spreads so easily—people with early infection often do not feel sick enough to stay home and avoid contact with others.
As COVID-19 progresses to severe illness, people may develop a wide range of other symptoms and associated conditions, including blood clotting complications, heart problems, strokes and impaired kidney function. The CDC recently issued an alert about as inflammatory syndrome in children with COVID-19. In fact, it is becoming clear that the coronavirus can affect most organs and systems in the body.
Mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can often be managed at home with rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking over-the-counter remedies for fever, cough and pain. These symptoms may last for several weeks and may come and go. Many people report that their symptoms tend to get worse in the evening.
The CDC recommends seeking medical care immediately if you or a loved one experience any of the following emergency warning signs:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face.