Symptoms Of Coronavirus You Should Look Out For, According To Experts


With the World Health Organization declaring that the coronavirus is now a global pandemic, experts are urging that people prepare themselves with information. Because the symptoms of coronavirus can be so similar to a cold or flu, knowing what coronavirus actually looks and feels like can help you avoid panicking with every small sniffle or touch of a cough.

There are certain, specific factors that raise the likelihood that symptoms might be related to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) suggests that doctors prioritize testing patients who have close contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus or who have traveled from coronavirus-affected regions within the past 14 days. Because experts also say that coronavirus is spreading within communities, though, people that do not fit those criteria may show symptoms as well.

Very elderly patients, health care workers, and people with chronic conditions are more likely to catch it than the rest of the population, Dr. Andres Romero, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Bustle. Elderly, pregnant, or immunocompromised patients are also more likely to develop complications from the virus, such as pneumonia or kidney failure, per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The Symptoms Of The Coronavirus

As of WHO guidelines updated March 9, the definition of novel coronavirus symptoms includes fever, difficulty breathing, and a dry cough that doesn't involve mucus or blood. "Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 include mild to severe respiratory illness, fever, cough, and shortness of breath," Romero says. As of March 16, the World Health Organization notes that some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.

Dr. Charlotte Hespe, M.B.B.S., DCH., a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, tells Bustle that sore throat and fatigue are on the list as well, but that these symptoms differ from patient to patient.

According to The New York Times, growing numbers of COVID-19 patients have also reported losing their sense of smell and a diminished sense of taste. Many of these patients reported not having any other symptoms. Research on this symptom specifically is still limited, but there is "good evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia,” the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO) wrote on its website on March 23. The AAO proposed that these symptoms should be added to the list of screening tools and criteria for isolation.

It's also possible for some people to be asymptomatic, according to a study of coronavirus published in The Lancet on March 11, so if you've been in contact with somebody who has been diagnosed with coronavirus, it's important to try to get tested for coronavirus — even if you feel well.

How Long The Coronavirus Takes To Show Up

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers found that symptoms of coronavirus shows up after five days of exposure on average, the researchers announced on March 9. Two weeks is thought to be the maximum incubation period for coronavirus, or the longest amount of time between exposure and developing symptoms, which is why it's recommended as a period of self-quarantine if someone is at risk of catching the virus. As of March 13, the CDC notes that symptoms can appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

“Patients should call ahead to their GP if they experience symptoms within 14 days of leaving mainland China and a number of other high risk countries, or within 14 days of coming into contact with someone confirmed as having coronavirus," Hespe tells Bustle.

Calling ahead before you go to a doctor's appointment means that they can take appropriate measures to test you and keep you in isolation from other people. High risk countries for COVID-19 as of March 23 include Iran, South Korea, and most of Western Europe, with clusters in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the United States.

How The Coronavirus Spreads

Currently, scientists believe COVID-19 is spread by surface contact with respiratory droplets, so washing your hands regularly will help contain it. "Wash 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," Romero says. Avoiding touching your face, eyes, or mouth can also lower your risk of becoming infected. Preliminary research published on March 9 found that people "shed" high amounts of coronavirus in the first period of infection, in some cases before they show symptoms. On March 17, new research was published that found the virus can survive in aerosol form for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The most important thing to do if you think you may have the coronavirus, experts say, is to stay at home and away from others. "Voluntary home isolation is the first and most important step," Romero says. "At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus." If you have been exposed to somebody who's got coronavirus or have recently been in a high risk country, you should isolate yourself and protect everybody else from your symptoms. "Stay away from work," Hespe says.

If you need to call 911, whether for your symptoms or something else, tell the dispatcher that you or someone in your home is experiencing symptoms. In this situation, it's a good idea to wear a face mask, Romero says. But that should be a last resort; you should only involve the emergency services if you have serious symptoms that feel like pneumonia. "This is not for a cough or slight sore throat," Hespe says.

How Coronavirus Is Different From Flu, Allergies, And Bronchitis

As allergies and colds are likely to spike as we move into spring, it's important not to interpret benign cold symptoms as the coronavirus. "At the present time, flu-like symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus," Romero says. Coronavirus symptoms come on much more rapidly than a standard cold, and it can be distinguished from typical influenza, allergies, and bronchitis by its trifecta of symptoms: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, many people may be asymptomatic or experience very mild symptoms.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.


Dr. Charlotte Hespe, M.B.B.S. DCH., spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

Dr. Andres Romero, M.D., infection disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center

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