As we enter into cold and flu season, prompting a possible “twindemic,” identifying COVID-19 symptoms has never been more important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a wide range of symptoms reported by those who have been infected with the virus. And, while the average incubation period is around 5-6 days, some people experience signs of the infection as soon as two days after exposure. Here are 11 early signs you should look out for, according to some of the nation’s top medical experts. Read on to discover the warning signs so you can seek help when necessary, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
According to Amir Masoud, MBBS, a Yale Medicine gastroenterologist, one of the earliest symptoms of COVID-19 is loss of taste. Also called ageusia, this symptom can appear in as little as two days after exposure. And, according to “long haulers”—a term used to describe those who don’t fully or immediately recover from the virus—the symptom can linger for months on end.
Along with loss of taste, Dr. Massoud says that those infected with the virus might experience a loss of smell, also called anosmia, early in the infection. “As the coronavirus infects the body, it invades your olfactory organ, which is responsible for your sense of smell, and damages the blood vessels feeding this organ,” explains William W. Li, MD, internationally renowned physician, scientist and author of the New York Times bestseller Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. As a result, you may not be able to smell normally. “If you have this in conjunction with any of the other symptoms, it’s best to let your doctor know right away,” he suggests.
While less common than loss of taste or smell, gastrointestinal issues can be an early sign of coronavirus says Dr. Massoud. One of them is diarrhea.
The second gastrointestinal symptom that can be an early sign of COVID is nausea, Dr. Massoud reveals.
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According to a study published in JAMA, one of the most common early symptoms of the virus was fatigue, reported by over 68 percent of those surveyed. However, the feeling of being excessively tired is rarely independent of others, points out Dana Mincer, DO, Amwell Family Physician and Urgent Care Doctor. “Fatigue is usually paired with something else — a low grade fever to a high grade fever and body aches,” she explains.
A dry cough—”one that does not produce mucus,” per Dr. Mincer—is another early sign of the virus. “The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, so it’s no surprise that the majority of people who are infected have a cough,” Dr. Li adds. According to the survey, over 60 percent of those surveyed identified it as a symptom.
While a fever can signify a variety of ailments, as it is a sign the body is fighting off an infection, over 55 percent of people surveyed claimed it was an early symptom of COVID. According to Dr. Mincer, coronavirus fevers can vary in temperature from low-grade—99.5 to 100.3—to high. And, like a fatigue, a coronavirus fever is usually paired with other symptoms. When should you be concerned? “Take your temperature and if it’s 100.4˚F, you should monitor and if persistent, call your doctor to check in,” Dr Li suggests. However, keep in mind that not everyone with COVID-19 develops a fever, and there are many other illnesses besides COVID that cause fever, especially during flu season.
Feeling pain in your body could mean you are sick with COVID. According to the survey, nearly 45 percent reported muscle or body aches. Again, Dr. Mincer points out that this symptom is rarely independent if it is related to a COVID infection.
Pay attention to any headaches you experience. According to the survey, nearly one-third of coronavirus patients report a headache.
Shortness of breath is one of the virus’ defining symptoms. “About half of my patients experience respiratory symptoms that range from mild to severe,” explains Mincer. This type of manifestation of the virus generally takes about 5 days post infection to arise, which she explains, is when more serious cases can be identified. “If you are going to have severe symptoms, day 5 is generally when they present,” she maintains. According to a study published in The Lancet, most hospital admissions occur around day 7 or after.
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Around a third of coronavirus patients report a sore throat. However, Dr. Mincer points out that some are more of a secondary symptom, “possibly as a result of the dry cough irritating their throat.” She also explains that a coronavirus sore throat is different from other infections, including strep, as the throat will usually appear red and inflamed instead of visual white patches on the tonsils or red spots on the roof of the mouth.
Contact your medical professional immediately to discuss getting tested—and stay at home alone until you get word. And to avoid getting sick in the first place, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.