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COVID Symptoms That Require Immediate Attention, Say Experts 

Doctors explain when to see medical treatment for COVID
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

While Omicron may be milder than COVID for some, it's still sending a record number of people to the hospital. A sore throat or cough that won't quit, chills and a fever are typical symptoms of the virus that usually don't require medical care, but if you're experiencing other symptoms, experts say a trip to the ER might be necessary. Eat This, Not That! Health talked with experts who revealed when it's time to seek medical treatment and when to stay home. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

COVID Symptoms That Require Immediate Attention

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

*This list is not all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you. Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility: Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19."

Erica Susky, an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) in hospital epidemiology adds, "The public health and hospital education for those with COVID-19 indicate that the following issues should prompt someone to return for immediate medical attention: 

  • Fever over 38 degrees Celsius (or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) that persists despite taking medication.  
  • A cough that worsens and starts to produce mucus (green, yellow, bloody or bad smelling).  
  • Breathing that is labored, or it is harder than normal to catch one's breath. 
  • Chest pain.  
  • Lethargy or drowsiness. 
  • Dizziness or confusion."

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2

Getting COVID-19 More Than Once

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Susky explains, "After a few months, immune memory from either being infected with SARS-CoV-2 or vaccinated against it fades. In addition, SARS-Cov-2 continually mutates which may allow it to evade immune memory as seen with the Omicron Variant of Concern (VOC). In public health when investigating new COVID-19 cases, the consideration that one may have a new SARS-Cov-2 infection begins after 90 days of recovering from COVID-19. As the pandemic draws into year three, and with the Omicron VOC, there are more and more instances of people getting COVID-19 more than once and it is certainly becoming more common." 

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3

Why COVID Breakthrough Cases are Happening with People that are Vaccinated and Boosted

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According to Susky, "With any vaccine, breakthrough cases are a possibility as no vaccine is 100% effective though some are excellent at preventing infection in a large majority of people. 

With SARS-CoV-2 specifically, Omicron has the highest number of mutations in a VOC to date. A large number of mutations are in the spike protein, which was the protein used to develop current COVID-19 vaccines. Some mutations are shared with Delta and other VOCs have been shown to contribute to immune escape. If the spike protein is altered too much in SARS-CoV-2, antibodies from vaccines may bind less effectively to virus as the antibodies from the vaccine are meant to recognize, bind and neutralize the spike protein (and the SARS-CoV-2 virus by association).  In addition, as mentioned above, there is information emerging that shows that COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness wanes over a few months showing the need for boosters."

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4

Key Differences Between Omicron and the Flu

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Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder of Redirect Health explains, "Because of the similarities in symptoms of Omicron and the flu, it is very hard to distinguish which one you may have. While things like headaches, fatigue, and a cough are all symptoms that can be seen in both, there may be some differences you can look out for. Even though it is more common to see a loss of smell or taste with the Delta strain over Omicron, it likely indicates you have COVID instead of the flu. Other symptoms like diarrhea and a stuffy nose are less common with cases of Omicron but can be more frequent with the flu. Since it is so hard to tell the difference, it is highly recommended to stay home if you are sick and to get tested for COVID-19 so you can know for sure."

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5

How Often Should We Get Tested for COVID?

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Dr. Neil Brown, Chief Diagnosis Officer and ER Doctor at K Health says, "There are several instances in which you might want to take an at-home rapid COVID test, including:

  • When you're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (even after vaccination)
  • When you've had known exposure to someone with confirmed COVID-19
  • Before gathering with immunocompromised loved ones
  • If you're complying with local or employer mandates"

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6

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, 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.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more