"The scope of the seriousness of this infection is extraordinary," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, about COVID-19 last fall. Some people have symptoms of a minor head cold—stuffy nose, sore throat—while others can develop long-lasting high fevers or serious lung problems. But although coronavirus can have a wide variety of outcomes—and some people who are infected may experience no signs of the disease at all—there are telltale symptoms you should be aware of to protect your health and the health of others. These are 10 symptoms the CDC—and Dr. Fauci—lists as the most common indicators of COVID-19, along with what top experts like Dr. Fauci say you need to know about them. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
You Might Feel Fever or Chills
Fever—defined as a body temperature over 100.4 F—is a response your immune system creates to fight off an infection. It's also one of the most common signs of coronavirus. However, don't assume COVID always causes an elevated temp. "You may or may not have fever," said Fauci. "I don't think you need to rely on fever—that if you don't have a fever, you're okay. Because plenty of people in the very early period of time don't have fever."
You May Have a Cough
A persistent cough with fever is the most common symptom of coronavirus. It's dry, persistent and causes shortness of breath, what Fauci calls "fullness in the upper airway." Cough can also linger after the virus has technically cleared your body. According to a July study by the CDC, 43% of people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 reported their cough hadn't gone away by 14 to 21 days after they tested positive.
You May Have Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing
COVID-19 causes lung inflammation and damage that can make it hard to catch your breath. It's an alarming feeling. But when is it technically an emergency? "There are many examples of temporary shortness of breath that are not worrisome," says Harvard Medical School. "For example, if you feel very anxious, it's common to get short of breath and then it goes away when you calm down … However, if you find that you are ever breathing harder or having trouble getting air each time you exert yourself, you always need to call your doctor."
You May Feel Fatigue
Feeling tired is very common when recovering from illness—it's a sign that the body is working to resolve an infection. People diagnosed with COVID frequently report fatigue, which can range from mild to severe and can last for weeks or months. Fauci has likened the phenomenon to chronic fatigue syndrome; he says it's widespread enough to warrant close study. "We're starting to see more and more people who apparently recover from the actual viral part of it, and then weeks later, they feel weak, they feel tired, they feel sluggish, they feel short of breath," Fauci said last August. "It's very disturbing, because if this is true for a lot of people, then just recovering from this may not be okay. You may have weeks where you feel not exactly correct."
You May Feel Muscle or Body Aches
Muscle pain or body aches (or what Fauci called "myalgia") have been frequently reported by people infected with COVID, which causes inflammation throughout the body. This is another symptom that can linger. In fact, about two-thirds of patients in the COVID Long-Hauler Symptom Survey reported long-term muscle pain or soreness.
You May Have a Headache
The CDC lists headache as one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, and a study in the journal Neurology found it might be one of the earliest signs of the illness. Unfortunately, it's another symptom that can endure. "We're seeing a small subset of people who have prolonged headache symptom long after their acute illness is over," said Dr. Valeriya Klats, a neurologist and headache specialist with Hartford HealthCare in Connecticut. "This can either be episodic or an all-day, everyday headache. The way we describe this is the new 'daily persistent headache.' It's very bothersome to patients."
You May Have a New Loss Of Taste Or Smell
A loss of the ability to smell or taste is occasionally seen with other coronaviruses like the common cold, but it's been so commonly seen with COVID-19 that it's considered a distinguishing characteristic of the disease. According to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 64% of people diagnosed with COVID reported a new loss of smell or taste. A July CDC survey found that the symptom lasts an average of eight days, but some people experience it for weeks.
You May Have a Sore Throat
A "sore throat, kind of scratchy feeling" is a commonly reported early symptom of coronavirus, said Fauci. "If someone comes in and says, you know, I kind of feel bushed today. I'm tired. I got this little scratchy feeling in my throat. I feel a little achy. That's a telltale sign" of COVID, he said.
You May Have Congestion Or Runny Nose
Runny nose and congestion are easy to confuse with allergies, especially if you're feeling otherwise well. But according to Fauci and the CDC, they're also two of the hallmark signs of COVID-19.
You May Have Nausea, Vomiting Or Diarrhea
Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea or vomiting are an uncomfortable reality of COVID-19. Research from Wuhan, China, found that 50% of coronavirus patients reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting or stomachache.
How to Stay Healthy During This Pandemic
If you experience ay of the symptoms you've just read about, contact a medical professional. And do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.