Now that the coronavirus outbreak has affected people in more than 100 countries, awareness of COVID-19 is at an all-time high, making people across the globe wonder if their latest sniffle could be a symptom.
Here’s what you should know about the virus’s symptoms and what you should do if you experience them. Remember that it’s important to take precautions to protect not only your health and safety, but also the health and safety of others.
COVID-19 symptoms are often “mild.” Here’s what to look out for.
Dr. Linda Anegawa, an internist with virtual health platform PlushCare, previously told HuffPost that the main symptoms often appear similar to the flu, “such as fever over 100.5, cough, malaise, and occasionally nausea, diarrhea. In more severe cases, shortness of breath, chest pain and pneumonia will be apparent.”
Most people who contract the disease will experience “mild symptoms,” which may be “similar symptoms that you may experience with a cold or mild flu-like illness,” Kristin Dean, a board-certified physician and medical director at the telemedicine service Doctor on Demand, previously told HuffPost. “Most people experience a mild form of coronavirus with these symptoms being the most common: cough, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion or diarrhea. In some cases, people who are infected will not exhibit any symptoms.”
Coronavirus can present as a common cold in mild cases, with a low-grade fever, chills, headache, fatigue and malaise. It’s important not to ignore these mild symptoms, and it could take anywhere from 2 to 14 days for an infected person to actually exhibit mild symptoms, with the average being about five days.
“An individual may think nothing of these symptoms because they do not significantly change or impact their daily lives,” Eudene Harry, a board-certified physician in emergency medicine and medical director for the Oasis Wellness & Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida, previously told HuffPost.
What to do if you’re displaying symptoms.
The biggest red flag is shortness of breath, followed by a high fever and worsening cough, in which case you should seek immediate medical attention. If you have a history of medical conditions that can decrease your immune system’s response, you’ll want to be extra cautious as well.
“Decreased immunity may be caused by some of the following conditions: being older than age 65, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, HIV or taking immunosuppressive medications,” Dean explained.
If you fall into one of those categories and are experiencing any symptoms, contact a health care provider via phone or a virtual video visit to talk it through and discuss the next steps. This is especially important if you have traveled to areas with high community transmission or been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. (Even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms, it is advisable to self-isolate for 14 days after contact.)
Conducting initial consultations through telemedicine networks can help reduce the spread of the virus by allowing health care workers to take protective measures to prepare for a visit from a potentially infectious patient. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, however, call 911 to get immediate medical care.
Whatever you do, try not to panic.
“Most cases of COVID-19 will be mild and resolve on their own similar to the flu,” Anegawa said. “It’s best to stay home and out of public. However, if you have any severe symptoms such as a very high fever, severe cough or shortness of breath, it would be wise to seek in-person care.”
What to do if you’re unable to be diagnosed.
HuffPost has previously reported that due to test kit shortages in the U.S., people who show mild symptoms but haven’t been in contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients or visited high-risk areas may not be able to get a diagnosis. But it’s still important to stay home if you aren’t feeling well to help reduce the spread of illness.
“If you suspect you have COVID-19, please do not go to work, school or out in public places until you are directed to do so by a health care provider,” Dean said. “Mild COVID-19, just like other colds you have experienced, will typically resolve on its own by taking care of your health.”
She advised people who are exhibiting mild symptoms to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and remain isolated from others.
“You can take over-the-counter cold remedies to help treat your symptoms, such as acetaminophen for fevers or headaches, and cough medications to alleviate coughing,” she added. “Since this illness is due to a virus, antibiotics are not effective. Stay in touch with your doctor about changes in your symptoms, and when it’s all right to return to your usual activities.”
Doctors still aren’t certain about how long patients infected with coronavirus are contagious, but one study suggests that those with mild cases are probably not infectious by about 10 days after they first experienced symptoms. Pending more conclusive research, however, it’s best to exercise caution and stay in touch with your doctor.
Avoiding high-risk places, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, keeping a safe distance between people, not touching your face, and coughing or sneezing into elbows instead of hands are all measures everyone can take to help slow the rate of infection ― even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. Taking care of yourself is one of the most selfless things you can do in the time of a pandemic.
“If everyone with a sore throat goes to the hospital, resources will be used unnecessarily,” said Jake Deutsch, a physician specializing in emergency medicine and co-founder of Specialty Infusion. “Statistically speaking, most people won’t need an intensive-care level of treatment, so make sure those resources are available for people who clearly are more at risk. If you don’t have underlying medical conditions, I’d recommend staying home until you’re not sick. Judge your symptoms and put them in context of your medical problems.”
Ultimately, it’s important to follow guidance from reputable public health leaders like the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The best treatment we can provide is making sure people have correct information and can process everything,” Deutsch said.