Skip to content

10 Ways You Might Have Had COVID-19—But Didn't Know

There’s a good chance your winter illness was misdiagnosed, health experts maintain.

While most of us in the United States weren't too worried about getting infected with the potentially deadly virus until mid-March, when COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, current data supports that it was actually here and spreading, long before we realized it.

Because many of the symptoms of coronavirus overlap with other illnesses and health conditions, it's very possible you've already had it — and might have even been diagnosed with something else.

"In medicine, you look for the disease that makes sense, not some new virus that will grow to pandemic proportions," Leann Poston MD, MBA, MEd, of Ikon Health, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. With that in mind, here are 10 illnesses you thought you had that may have actually been coronavirus. 


Upper Respiratory Infection

Woman sore throat with glass of water in her bed

According to Inna Husain, MD, Assistant Professor, Director of the Voice, Airway, Swallowing Disorders Program Dept. of Otolaryngology, Rush University Medical Center, your bad and prolonged upper respiratory infection earlier this winter may have been COVID-19. "We know now that COVID-19 was likely around earlier than we thought," she explains to Eat This, Not That! Health.

"I, along with several of my otolaryngology colleagues, saw patients presenting with prolonged cases of URIs. They were sent from primary care offices to rule out some sort of bacterial infection." Symptoms included sore throat and general malaise, however, many of them tested negative for various infections. "We now suspect that these cases may have been COVID-19," she admits, pointing out that COVID-19 testing wasn't available at the time. 


Strep Throat

Young woman at doctor being tested for pain in the throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make your throat feel scratchy and sore — also a symptom of coronavirus. "Earlier this winter we had several patients who came in to see their physicians with sore throat and upper respiratory infection signs that were negative for strep throat," Dr. Husain explains. 



skin rash treatment on woman neck

According to Dr. Husain, due to the fact that mono also shares a lot of symptoms in common with COVID-19 — fatigue, fever, rash, and swollen glands — the two could have easily been confused. In fact, over the last several months they had several patients who tested negative for the condition, informally referred to as the "kissing disease" and scientifically referred to as infectious mononucleosis.


Pink Eye

Closeup of irritated red bloodshot eye

Pink eye, aka conjunctivitis, is a relatively common ocular occurrence. However, if you had it over the winter, there's a chance it was actually a symptom of coronavirus. Various studies and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reported that COVID-19 "can cause a mild follicular conjunctivitis otherwise indistinguishable from other viral causes." In fact, they estimated that conjunctivitis impacts 1-3% of those with COVID-19. 



woman with cold and flu bad symptoms

Many of us opt out of going to the doctor when we suspect the flu has hit, especially if our symptoms are manageable. Even if you did decide to seek medical help, maybe your flu test came back negative or your physician opted to not administer one at all. Either way it could have been COVID-19 points out Dr. Husain. "Several patients were diagnosed with flu due to sore throat, fever, malaise/aches, but had negative flu testing," she explains.


Food Poisoning

Suffering From Abdominal Pain Touching Aching Stomach Lying On Couch At Home

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are all tell-tale signs that you have food poisoning or the stomach flu — but they are also three of the main symptoms of coronavirus. If you suffered digestive issues over the last several months — and perhaps couldn't pinpoint it to a food — you might have actually been battling COVID-19. 


Lyme Disease

A person, leg bitten by a deer tick

While the primary symptom of Lyme disease — the bacterial infection you can get from a tick bite — is a distinctive looking rash, its other symptoms are strikingly similar to coronavirus. Amongst them? Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. While it's not likely you got Lyme over the winter, due to the absence of ticks, definitely keep this information in mind during the summer months. 



Man with allergy or an infection sneezing

Allergies or coronavirus? "As we enter allergy season it is important to help distinguish allergy symptoms from those of infections like COVID-19 and the flu," says Ryan Steele, DO, a Yale Medicine allergist and immunologist. "This can make a big difference in your health and those of family and coworkers," One of these, according to Dr. Poston, is a nagging cough. 



Woman Trying to Sense Smell of a Lemon

Dr. Husain reveals that there were reported cases of anosmia — loss of sense of smell and/or taste — coming in from Italy/Europe prior to this being a screening symptom for COVID-19 by the CDC. "Coronavirus, and other upper respiratory viruses, can infect cranial nerves including the olfactory nerve that creates a sense of smell," she explains. In fact, she wrote a piece detailing the phenomenon in Scientific American. "So, since anosmia was not on the list of screening questions, patients may not have been tested for the virus." 



Doctor examining chest x-ray film of patient at hospital

Were you sick for what seems like forever over the winter? Maybe your doctor even diagnosed you with pneumonia. Poston says that there's a good chance your severe and relentless illness in January or February could have been coronavirus. 

As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Filed Under