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Early Signs You Have COVID, According to the CDC

Call your healthcare provider if you feel any of these initial symptoms.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek
Coronavirus cannot breathe

With the coronavirus killing our loved ones—or leading to long-term suffering for others—it's essential you know the early signs so you can save yourself and stop the spread. They're a bit tricky to identify. "In all my experience," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, has observed, "I have never seen a disease range from asymptomatic to mild to fatal like this one." However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the most common symptoms you need to know—read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus


You Have Fever or Chills

The most common of symptoms, coronavirus fevers can vary in temperature from low-grade—99.5 to 100.3—to high. And, like a fatigue, a coronavirus fever is usually paired with other symptoms. When should you be concerned? "Take your temperature and if it's 100.4˚F, you should monitor and if persistent, call your doctor to check in," explains William W. Li, MD, physician, scientist and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. Note: not everyone with COVID-19 develops a fever.


You Have a Cough

A COVID cough is often described as dry, and it can range from mild to brutal. One British Member of Parliament, Yasmin Qureshi, described her recent bout: "The coughing would not stop. I used an oximeter and it showed that my oxygen levels went down to 89/90," she told the Guardian. "It was hurting the base of my stomach, my chest. I could feel a physical pain inside. My oxygen levels then dipped to 85/86. But it was the coughing that really began to hurt. At times, the pain felt unbearable. I coughed so much that I threw up," she said.


You Have Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can impact all your body's systems—your lungs, naturally, included. Some patients get out of breath walking to the fridge or climbing one flight of stairs. Other patients have been left with permanent lung scarring. "The shortness of breath came and has never left," formerly fit 27-year-old Amy Fabrizius told CBS News Chicago.


You Have Fatigue

This isn't "feeling sleepy," although you may feel tired when fighting a virus. No, patients instead describe a profound fatigue, as if their body is willing itself to shut down. Layth Hishmeh, a 26-year-old, told the Financial Times: "I couldn't sit up for about one month, and then I couldn't get myself to the bathroom for another month," he said. "I'm not doing so well on the mental front at the moment, it's traumatizing." 

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear in This Order, Study Finds


You Have Muscle or Body Aches

Here's a good word to learn during the pandemic: myalgia. "Myalgia describes muscle aches and pain, which can involve ligaments, tendons and fascia, the soft tissues that connect muscles, bones and organs," reports Johns Hopkins. Dr. Fauci has said this myalgia can last in some COVID patients long after the virus has left the body.


You Have Headaches

"My friend described the headaches like a hammer inside his head that was trying to chip its way out," wrote Broadway actor Danny Burstein (Moulin Rouge!), who got COVID early in the pandemic. "That's an understatement."


You Have a New Loss of Taste or Smell

This one, even Fauci had to say, is pretty distinctive, noting during the AAP's National Conference & Exhibition "the peculiar loss of smell and taste that precedes the onset of respiratory symptoms." 


You Have a Sore Throat

A sore throat could just be allergies or a cold—or COVID-19. The World Health Organization reported early on in the pandemic that a sore throat was apparent in only 13.9% of the patients studied, less than those with shortness of breath but more than those with nausea or conjunctival congestion.


You Have Congestion or Runny Nose

Like a sore throat, congestion or a runny nose could be allergies or a cold—or it could be coronavirus—and like the sore throat, the WHO found, early in the pandemic, that it was relatively uncommon, with 4.8% reporting nasal congestion (that's opposed to, say, 87.9% reporting a fever).


You Have Nausea or Vomiting

You may remember Tom Hanks saying his wife Rita Wilson experienced nausea when they caught COVID early on. "Rita went through a tougher time than I did," Hanks said. "She had a much higher fever and she had some other symptoms. She lost her sense of taste and smell. She got absolutely no joy from food for a better part of three weeks … She was so nauseous she had to crawl on the floor from the bed to the facilities."


You Have Diarrhea

Thought by one study to be most commonly the final symptom of COVID-19, diarrhea can also be an initial sign—and sometimes, one of the only signs, appearing before even any respiratory issues.


What to Do if You Feel These Symptoms

"Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus," says the CDC, adding, "this list does not include all possible symptoms…If you have a fever, cough or other symptoms, you might have COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider." And if you have an emergency—for example, you can't breathe—then seek emergency care immediately. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.