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People with COVID Usually Feel This First

Here are the earliest signs of COVID-19, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

The Omicron BA.4 subvariant is spreading across South Africa and parts of Europe, and could lead to another COVID-19 surge in the U.S. "We're definitely entering a resurgence in South Africa, and it seems to be driven entirely by BA.4 and BA.5," says Penny Moore, Ph.D., a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "We're seeing crazy numbers of infections. Just within my lab, I have six people off sick." So what warning signs should people be looking for? Here are five symptoms of COVID-19 to be aware of, according to virus experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Sore Throat

Sick man having sore throat.
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Some of the earliest signs of COVID-19 are sore throat and other cold-like symptoms, experts say. "We're seeing a lot of sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and mild headache," says Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief at the New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

2

Vaccinations Make a Difference

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While no one should deliberately expose themselves to COVID-19, vaccinated people who have previously been infected with the virus have "hybrid immunity". "Hybrid immunity is really the most robust correlate of protection against severe disease and death," says Galit Alter, Ph.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Even folks who've gotten two shots … don't seem to do as well at resisting COVID-19 as folks who had hybrid immunity due to infection either before or after vaccination. There is something special about seeing the virus in its entirety."

3

Are Hospitalizations On the Rise?

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital
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 "The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa continues to closely monitor SARS-CoV-2 variants and sub-lineages circulating in SA. Work is also ongoing to determine the impact of the BA.4 and BA.5 mutations on the virus," says Dr. Nicole Wolter of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. "We have not observed an increase in hospitalizations. However, the situation is being monitored closely. There is currently no indication that this will change with BA.4 and BA.5."

4

Reinfections Are Likely

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Even if you've previously had COVID-19 and are vaccinated, reinfection can happen with new variants. "Reinfections will become the norm, but what we hope is repeat infections will be milder each time as natural immunity combined with vaccination generates strong protection," says James McCaw, an epidemiologist and mathematical biologist with the University of Melbourne. "We will get reinfected, and we are most likely to be reinfected by new versions of the virus, which are immunologically different. It's going to happen more and more because it's the only way for the virus to establish itself. It will be around forever because of reinfections."

5

Long COVID Isn't Always Obvious

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People who are living with long COVID may not realize they have it, experts say. "Now over the last year we know that you don't necessarily have to be hospitalized to get long COVID, that it ranges from people who are mildly to moderately symptomatic to individuals who are actually requiring hospitalization," says Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more