Covid-19 symptoms guide – The Washington Post

Although this list is not inclusive of every possible symptom, it includes what physicians and health experts have determined are the most common. Some of these symptoms will coincide with one another. Symptoms of a coronavirus infection can emerge anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Fever, cough or shortness of breath

A fever might be the first indication you have a covid-19 infection, according to a recent study that looked at the onset of symptoms.

The fever itself can range from low-grade — maybe only a degree or two higher than normal — to dangerously high. A fever higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit is considered very high in adults and is a sign of a severe infection.

You can experience chills when your body feels cold for no apparent reason. It might be a cozy temperature, but you’re still shivering. Chills are most common with a fever, or when a fever is coming on, but it doesn’t always coincide with fever.

The coronavirus is a respiratory illness, so cough is a common symptom, and it can also appear early in the infection. A dry, persistent cough can be a red flag that you have a covid-19 infection.

Along with the cough can come shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Covid-19 can sometimes cause pneumonia, according to Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Johns Hopkins.

Pneumonia occurs when “air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid, limiting their ability to take in oxygen and causing shortness of breath, cough and other symptoms,” Galiatsatos writes.

Shortness of breath in a covid-19 infection can be mild or severe enough to require treatment with supplemental oxygen or a ventilator.

Fatigue or muscle aches

Sometimes the only indication that you might have of a viral infection is a general sickly feeling, or what physicians call fatigue — a persistent exhaustion that isn’t solved by getting more sleep.

In extreme cases, people who have suffered from covid-19 describe having barely enough energy to walk to the bathroom, or to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Some people report muscle aches or general achiness for no other apparent reason.


Headache is the most common neurological symptom in covid-19.

Other less-common neurological symptoms could include muscle weakness, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, dizziness, confusion, delirium, seizures and stroke, according to Harvard Medical School.

Loss or distorted sense of smell or taste

The loss of smell or taste is typically linked to early symptoms of upper-respiratory infections — including previous strains of coronavirus — because the virus damages olfactory bulbs that are involved in the sense of smell.

Another possible symptom is a distorted sense of smell or taste.

Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center, told The Post that certain distortions, including one that causes everything to have a fecal-like odor, can make common food and drinks revolting, because flavor is tied to sense of smell. “Even water can become unpleasant,” he said.

The distortions are most common in people who are recovering from covid-19 and starting to get their smell back, according to Justin Turner, medical director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Smell and Taste Center.

Sore throat, congestion or runny nose

A sore throat, congestion or runny nose are less frequently associated with a covid-19 infection, but it still occurs in enough cases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added them to its list.

It can be difficult to determine whether these symptoms are a result of covid-19 or something more benign such as allergies.

But allergies, which are an overreaction of the immune system to foreign particles, would not trigger things like a fever, muscle aches or chills, according to Sally Joo Bailey, an allergist at Allergy Associates of Northern Virginia in Arlington. Those are the classic signs of a viral infection, such as covid-19.

Stomach issues

Studies have found that approximately half of coronavirus patients experience at least one gastrointestinal symptom, which can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain or discomfort.

Difference between covid-19 and the flu

A key difference is the transmissivity: Coronavirus spreads more easily than the flu. Public health officials have encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against the flu this year to help ward off a bad flu season superimposed on a pandemic — and having had a flu shot could also help rule it out if you start to experience any of these symptoms.

The one symptom that’s common with covid-19, but not with the flu, is loss of taste and smell. But not everyone with covid-19 experiences that symptom, and experts warned that someone with allergies or a cold might also struggle to smell because they have a stuffy nose.

Absent a loss of taste or smell, most patients will need a nasal swab to get a proper diagnosis.

Sindya Bhanoo, Michael Brice-Saddler, Allyson Chiu and Marisa Iati contributed to this report.

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