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How To Tell If You've Had COVID

Even people who've been vaccinated may contract the virus.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the trickiest things about COVID is that many people who were infected—and passed along that infection—had mild symptoms, or no signs at all. Additionally, even people who've been vaccinated may contract the virus and pass it along, being none the wiser. Wondering if you've unwittingly battled coronavirus? We asked Dr. Gwen Murphy, Ph.D., MPH, director of epidemiology for Let'sGetChecked, how to tell if you've had COVID. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

How to Tell If You've Had COVID

Healthcare worker with protective equipment performs coronavirus swab on a woman.
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If you're wondering whether that scratchy throat you had last winter or last month was COVID, relying on a test for answers today can be dicey. 

"If you have had a coronavirus infection, your body likely developed antibodies to fight the infection, and it is possible to measure these antibodies in a blood sample," says Murphy. "However, not everyone who becomes infected will develop antibodies, and the antibody response fades over time, so taking a blood sample long after your suspected infection may not tell you much." 

If you're wondering whether a previous COVID infection means you should or shouldn't get vaccinated, stop wondering. Experts recommend getting vaccinated as soon as you can, even if you previously had COVID-19.

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Common Symptoms of COVID

woman covered with plaid checking her body temperature while sitting in bed at her apartment
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"The symptoms of coronavirus can vary, but many people experience a dry cough, fever and tiredness," says Murphy. "Others might experience aches and pains, a sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, or a rash on their skin, or discoloration of fingers or toes." The CDC's complete list of symptoms includes:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

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3

Another Reason to Get Vaccinated

Young woman taking a vaccine from her doctor.
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"The SARS-CoV-2 virus can attack many different parts of our bodies, and unfortunately some infections lead to long-term illness known as long COVID," says Murphy. "For these people, symptoms can last for weeks or months and can affect most, if not all, body systems, including heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain functions."

She adds: "Long COVID is another reason for all of us to get vaccinated and to encourage our friends and family to do the same."

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4

When to Worry

Young man having asthma attack at home
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If you suspect you have COVID, or have had it in the past, it's a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider about how you're doing. 

Some symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. "Seek help immediately if you are experiencing difficulty breathing or chest pain," says Murphy. 

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5

How to Stay Healthy

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As fall comes to a close, the public-health landscape looks much more uncertain than it did in the spring. It's unclear how long the Delta outbreak will last, and the dawn of cold and flu season adds another complicated layer to the picture. 

But there are things you can do to bolster your immune system and face the fall and winter at your healthiest, says Murphy. "All of us should continue to exercise regularly, try to eat a balanced diet, limit our alcohol intake and make sure we are getting enough sleep," she says. "When the flu vaccination becomes available this fall, you should get that too. Most importantly, continue to wash your hands frequently!"

So follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.