What are the symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

An illustration of the coronavirus provided by the CDC

Worried you may have the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19? Here are answers to common questions about symptoms, testing, when and how to see a doctor, and what to do if you are told to self-isolate or quarantine.

Stay informed about what public health officials know about the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, have reported a wide range of symptoms. They can be mild or severe and usually appear within 2-4 days after exposure to the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • fever
  • muscle pain and body aches
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • repeated shaking and chills
  • loss of taste or smell
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing

A minority of patients will get worse instead of better. This usually happens after 5-7 days of illness and these individuals experience more shortness of breath and worsening cough.

Patients who are elderly or have chronic health conditions may develop a severe form of pneumonia.

Some people are asymptomatic or have the virus and don’t get as sick. It is important to wear a mask and practice social distancing, so as not to spread this disease.

Since testing depends on having a certain amount of the coronavirus present in your nose (or nasopharynx), it can take several days from the time you’re exposed to when you will be able to be tested.

Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 testing has become more accessible. In general, however, testing is not recommended for people who do not have symptoms. It can take up to two weeks from the time someone is exposed to develop symptoms.

If you are experiencing mild-to-medium symptoms of COVID-19 — which include fever, muscle and body aches, cough and sore throat — stay at home, self-isolate and rest.

Monitor your temperature and drink plenty of fluids. Continue to wash your hands often, disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and stay away from other people as much as possible. If your condition worsens, reach out to your doctor — ideally by calling or messaging them through your MyChart account — for advice.

You’ll need to stay home for 72 hours after you recover.

Contact a doctor if you experience more severe symptoms, are over 60, or have additional health issues. People with hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, who have weak immune systems, who smoke, with underlying lung disease, or who take medicines to suppress their immune systems because they have cancer or an autoimmune condition are at higher risk for COVID-19.

Contact a doctor if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Constant or severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Unable to keep food and liquids down

If any of these symptoms are severe, you should go to an emergency room. If you are over 60 and have other chronic medical problems, consider contacting an emergency room even if you have less-severe symptoms of COVID-19.

The hospital and emergency room should be used only by people who are concerned about life-threatening symptoms, such as trouble breathing and chest pain. If you’re just a little bit sick, the best thing you can do is self-isolate and try to keep the virus from spreading to others.

If you are over 60 and have other chronic medical problems in addition to less-severe symptoms of the virus, you should consider contacting your doctor to see if they recommend you go to the emergency room.

Across the country, public health officials are concerned that the so-called “worried well” (those with less severe cases or who aren’t sick at all) will clog hospitals and emergency rooms. That takes resources away from sick patients and risks spreading germs to others who haven’t yet been exposed.

If you need to see a doctor or go to an emergency room because you have COVID-19 symptoms, contact your physician or local hospital immediately and tell them you are coming. They will arrange to care for you while also protecting those around you from possible spread of coronavirus.

Also, remember that it is safe to go to the doctor for medical issues unrelated to the coronavirus. Do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your health.

At this time, testing of patients for COVID-19 is available to anyone who has COVID-like symptoms, which include fever, cough, stuffy nose, sinus pain, difficulty breathing and body aches.

People without symptoms will generally not be tested unless they are undergoing a procedure or being admitted to the hospital. Regardless of a positive COVID-19 test, anyone with respiratory symptoms should avoid contact with others until they are healthy.

UChicago Medicine is conducting curbside testing on symptomatic patients of any age at UChicago Medicine in Hyde Park and at Ingalls Memorial in Harvey. Curbside testing is by appointment only.

Learn more about getting tested for COVID-19 at a UChicago Medicine location.

If you’re asked to self-isolate at home, it means you cannot and should not leave your home unless you’re going to seek medical care. If you live with other people, try to stay within a specific room and have your own bathroom, if possible. Don’t share household appliances and utensils. Make sure to limit access to pets and wear a facemask when you’re around other people or leaving your home to get medical attention. Don’t let others visit unless they’re medical professionals or those who absolutely need to be in your home. If you need to get medical care, make sure you call ahead. Carefully monitor your symptoms. Wash your hands and wipe down other surfaces frequently. Hand hygiene and surface-cleaning can make all the difference.

You’ll need to stay home for 72 hours after you recover.

If you’re given a public-health quarantine, authorities from the local health department also should be giving you guidance on how best to do this.

Social distancing is key to avoiding contact with COVID-19 and stopping the spread of this disease. 

Healthy people should:

  • Avoid crowds.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet when gatherings of small groups are required.
  • Avoid casual physical contact, such as handshaking.
  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, and avoid touching your face.
  • Wear a cloth mask in public settings, especially where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Those with fever or respiratory symptoms should:

  • Stay at home and not go to work or school.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow or a disposable tissue.
  • Avoid hospitals or healthcare clinics if your symptoms are mild and you can recover at home
Allison Bartlett, MD

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS, specializes in the medical management of acute and chronic infectious diseases. She also is working to improve the safety and efficacy of antibiotic use in children.

Learn more about Dr. Bartlett.

COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly across the globe, so some information may be outdated from our publish date. For our latest updates, read our most recent coronavirus coverage.

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