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
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

A small number 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.

First and foremost, if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 — which include fever, muscle and body aches, cough and sore throat — stay at home, self-isolate and rest. You may also complete a MyChart screening questionnaire. Our providers will determine if you are eligible to be tested. 

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. This is particularly important 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.

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

Testing is available for those with COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough, stuffy nose, sinus pain, difficulty breathing, inability to smell or taste and body aches. However, you must be screened before you can be tested. Complete a MyChart screening questionnaire. Our providers will determine if you are eligible to be tested.

COVID-19 testing is not available without an appointment. Swab collection visits typically take several minutes to complete. You will receive information on how to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms after your visit and will get follow-up phone calls with your test results in one to two days.

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. It can take up to two weeks from the time someone is exposed to develop symptoms. 

COVID-19 testing is available across the Chicago area, including at UChicago Medicine. Visit our testing page to learn more about our telephone triage and online screening process for COVID-19 tests. 

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 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. You should also get test for COVID-19. 

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.

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 H. Bartlett, MD, MS

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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