Coronavirus symptoms: Early signs and symptoms of COVID-19

The symptoms of COVID-19 infection vary. Here's how to know when you or a loved one might need to see a doctor.

As the coronavirus outbreak worsens across the U.S., it's important to know what to look out for: How do you know if you’re infected with the new coronavirus? What are the symptoms of COVID-19? And when is it time to see a doctor?

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 include a cough, sore throat, aches and pains, fever and fatigue. Some cases are mild, such as the common cold, while others are more likely to lead to pneumonia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their list of symptoms to include:

Other symptoms reported by doctors include:

What are early symptoms of coronavirus?

The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

NBC's Dr. Natalie Azar notes that many people have mild symptoms at the beginning and later develop shortness of breath and respiratory distress. The CDC says patients tend to first report fever, muscle aches, cough and sore throat.

What are coronavirus symptoms in children?

Children are less likely to experience serious symptoms with COVID-19. However, some children have developed an inflammatory condition called MIS-C that should receive immediate attention. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Red, swollen hands and feet
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and abdominal pain

Parents should call a pediatrician or seek help if their child experiences stomach problems and a fever for more than a day.

How long do the symptoms of COVID-19 last?

Many people recover within weeks, but for some people called "long-haulers," the symptoms can last for months. Doctors suspect the virus may have a long-term impact on patients' health.

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Can you get reinfected with the coronavirus?

Emerging research suggests that protective antibodies may fade after just a few months. Experts say it's simply too soon to know whether reinfections are happening.

Can you spread coronavirus without having symptoms?

Yes, and this is one of the reasons scientists say it's important to wear a mask. The World Health Organization estimates about 16 percent of people with the coronavirus never develop symptoms, but may indeed be able to spread the virus. Some estimates suggest around 40 percent of transmission may be due to asymptomatic spread.

When should you see a doctor?

Call your doctor or use telemedicine before you visit their office. Don't go straight to a doctor's office or emergency room, where you could unnecessarily expose other people.

Seek medical attention if you have fever, fatigue, cough or shortness of breath and are over the age of 60 or have underlying medical problems, Azar stressed. Anyone with shortness of breath, fever above 104 degrees, chest pain, intractable vomiting or diarrhea should seek medical attention.

What can you expect from a test?

Testing (and the availability of tests) has changed since the beginning of the outbreak. Here's what to know before getting a COVID-19 test.

How is coronavirus treated?

If you are managing symptoms at home, get rest, stay hydrated and take fever reducers like acetominophen or ibuprofen. In the hospitals, doctors will do the same thing but add breathing and oxygen assistance if necessary.

There is currently no vaccine or medicine that we know to be effective against coronavirus COVID-19, though some patients are being enrolled in trials with antivirals.

"Right now, if you test positive but have mild illness you would stay home while being monitored likely by the local or state health department," Azar says.

A quarantine for possible exposure would be 14 days.

How can you stay safe if a family member gets COVID-19?

To minimize the risk of transmission, the CDC and the World Health Organization have guidelines for people caring for a loved one with COVID-19. Recommendations include separating the loved one and taking careful precautions.

Is coronavirus worse than the flu?

Both the flu and coronavirus are respiratory illnesses. Coronavirus is definitely more contagious than the flu, Azar said.

"Fever, cough, shortness or breath can apply to both," she said. "With flu, we're very accustomed to this idea of that it starts really quickly, a lot of those aches and malaise."

If you have flu-like symptoms, "I think at this point, it's safe to provide guidance to say if you have come into contact with anyone or been to an area where there's an outbreak, you theoretically could have been exposed."

How does coronavirus spread?

Coronaviruses usually spread through direct contact with an infected person. Researchers are still learning precisely how the new virus spreads from person to person.

Coronaviruses in general are spread through close contact — a range of about 3 to 6 feet — and the virus is primarily spread through a sick person coughing or sneezing on someone.

A person could also become infected through contact with the virus particles on a surface. If an infected person sneezes or coughs onto a surface, such as a countertop or doorknob, and another person touches that surface and then rubs his or her eyes or nose, for example, the latter may get sick.

This novel coronavirus also appears to be spread by talking and breathing. Wearing a mask help stops asymptomatic carriers from transmitting the virus.

How can I protect against coronavirus?

Washing your hands properly is a great place to start. Adhere to social distancing guidelines. Wear a face mask.

Then check out these 10 tips for protecting yourself and your family during a coronavirus outbreak.