Coronavirus Symptoms: Commonly Asked Questions

Coronavirus symptoms are vague and not reliable in distinguishing it from other respiratory illnesses. I’ve gathered many of the frequently asked questions about coronavirus symptoms recently to help clarify our understanding of COVID-19 and what you can do to protect yourself.

women sneezing raises concern for COVID-19 infection, but it is not reliable in coronavirus symptoms
Is sneezing commonly seen in coronavirus symptoms?

How can you tell COVID-19 apart from the flu or common cold?

There are no reliable symptoms that can help you distinguish symptoms of COVID-19 from other respiratory illnesses. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are commonly seen in COVID-19. However, these symptoms are not always present if you are infected with coronavirus. If your community is under shelter in place, assume any respiratory illness is COVID-19 unless you have been specifically tested negative for COVID-19.

How dangerous could effects of COVID-19 be on the central nervous system (maybe even long term)? What is the relation to the loss of smell symptoms?

This is a very important question. It is believed that COVID-19 can reach the central nervous system. This is not unique to the coronavirus, however, and other viruses have this same potential. The long-term consequences of central nervous system involvement are not yet known. We are still actively researching the implications of loss of smell symptoms, as well. We do not yet know of any serious or long-term consequences in the central nervous system from loss of smell or change in taste.

A certain number of people who recovered from coronavirus and showed no signs of viral infection had mild fever of ~37+ °C and cough for weeks. What is the probability of developing complications after recovering from coronavirus?

Unfortunately there is no reliable set of coronavirus symptoms to help distinguish COVID-19 from any other infection. Furthermore, we do not have good predictors for who will develop severe disease, except for those with pre-existing conditions and advanced age.

Fever and cough in any individual should raise immediate suspicion for COVID-19, as there are common coronavirus symptoms. If someone has fever or cough they are not considered asymptomatic.

There are no coronavirus symptoms that can reliably predict the subsequent development of severe complications. Involvement of the heart (such as arrhythmias or heart failure) do predict severe complications and death. However, this does not apply to the vast majority of infected individuals. That being said, we believe if someone is young and has no comorbidities, mild symptoms would be unlikely to develop into severe complications. However, there are reports of asymptomatic individuals having pneumonia (on chest X-ray). Therefore, we cannot be 100% certain at this time.

If you don’t have symptoms but have tested positive for coronavirus, how long do you shed the virus from the system?

This is one of the commonly asked question about coronavirus symptoms. It is a controversial question because it depends on where you are measuring viral shed. Virus can be shed from the nose, throat, sputum, or feces. Furthermore, people without symptoms are typically not tested. That being said, the median viral shedding period is considered to be 20 days from symptom onset.

We have measured this in patients who have recovered and no longer have symptoms. These patients still shed virus from the back of the throat for up to eight days after recovery. Other studies have found viral shedding up to 39 days (in sputum).

Importantly, we do not know whether this viral shedding represents the possibility of infection. You can read my review of these studies in this post.

Are red eyes a signature symptom of coronavirus infection??

Red eyes may be present with any viral respiratory illness. Red eyes are not a sensitive or specific symptom of COVID-19.

There are reports of red skin around the eyes in patients with severe disease, however. We are still investigating how commonly this occurs, and why.

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The information provided in this post in intended for general education. It is not medical advice. While I make every effort to provide the most up-to-date information, please note that new data is continuously becoming available and may change the conclusions I present here.

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