How to tell if you have coronavirus (COVID-19)

Updated on

This advice is based on our medical staff and CDC guidelines about COVID-19. We update this site when new information is available. New information may also be available from the CDC.

Is this an emergency?

If you’re suffering from a life threatening condition, stop and call 911.

Know the symptoms and what to do about COVID-19

Common symptoms of COVID-19

  • fever or chills
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough

Other symptoms of COVID-19 are

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • aches and pains
  • headache
  • congestion or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • loss of sense of smell and taste
  • diarrhea
  • nausea

COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe; contact your medical care provider for additional information on symptom relief. 

Common symptoms of COVID-19 in children

Common symptoms in children include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Like adults, children can be also asymptomatic.

When to get care for COVID-19

People who have COVID-19 symptoms and any of the following should get care from their provider:

How long can symptoms of COVID-19 last for people with mild illness

Symptom duration can range from a few days to weeks.  A recent study from the CDC showed that 1 in 5 previously healthy adults between the ages of 18-34 had not returned to their usual health after 14-21 days of illness.  Persons can not have symptoms for some time but can still spread the virus.

COVID-19 testing

How do I get tested for COVID-19

Your provider will decide if you need to be tested.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and/or have been near a person you know has COVID-19, stay home and contact your provider. 

Who can get tested for COVID-19

Availability and criteria for testing for COVID-19 can vary by location and by the organization providing the test. In general, the CDC recommends:  

  • Testing individuals with signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19
  • Testing asymptomatic individuals with recent known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 to control transmission
  • Testing asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 for early identification in special settings such as:
    • Long-term care facilities
    • Correctional and detention facilities
    • Homeless shelters
    • Other congregate work or living settings including mass care, temporary shelters, assisted living facilities, and group homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities
    • High-density critical infrastructure workplaces where continuity of operations is a high priority
  • Testing to determine resolution of infection (i.e., returning to work, or the discontinuation of home isolation)
  • Public health surveillance for COVID-19

Additionally, for those persons undergoing elective procedures (i.e. dental procedures) testing may be useful to determine if further deferring of procedures is needed if evidence of COVID-19 infection exists.

Who should get tested for COVID-19

Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. If you are tested, you should self-quarantine and isolate at home when waiting your test results. People who should get tested include:

  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • If you have had close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with some how has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • If your healthcare provider recommends testing

What are the types of COVID-19 tests

There are two different types of COVID-19 tests – diagnostic tests and antibody tests.

  • Diagnostic tests use a nasal or throat swab (sometimes saliva) to diagnose active COVID-19 infection. There are two types of diagnostic tests:
    • Molecular tests detect the presence of the virus’s genetic material with testing run at a local laboratory. This type of test is highly accurate to diagnose current infection but does not show if you have ever had COVID-19 in the past. 
    • Antigen tests detect the presence of specific proteins on the surface of the virus. This is the type of test which is typically used in rapid diagnostic testing with results available in minutes. When this test shows positive results, it is highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with molecular tests. 
  • Antibody tests use blood to detect antibodies which are created to fight infection. Antibody tests show if you have had COVID-19 in the past but do not show if you are currently infected. Positive antibody tests do not necessarily mean that you are immune to re-infection. 

How reliable is testing for COVID-19

The reliability of diagnostic test results depends on a number of factors including how the test was collected and the conditions in which the test was shipped to the laboratory. Additionally, results may be affected by when the test was taken. For example, if a person is tested on the day they were infected, there may not be enough viral particles in the nose or mouth to detect this recent infection. The chance of getting a false negative (a test result that says you are not infected with COVID-19 but actually are) decreases if you are tested a few days after a suspected exposure or a few days after you have some symptoms. 

All tests for COVID-19 are very specific meaning that if a test does come back as positive, it is almost certain that the person is infected. 

What’s the latest on antibody and immunity testing

Labs are doing antibody or “immunity” testing.

We don’t currently have a recommendation for antibody testing, because:

  • Right now, it isn’t clear how long COVID-19 antibodies last after infection.
  • It also isn’t clear if these antibodies means you can’t be infected with COVID-19 again. 
  • The test can also sometimes say you have COVID-19 antibodies when you do not. 

Whether you’re tested or not, you can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by physical distancing and wearing a mask.

Is at-home testing available

Yes

Currently, at home testing is available through various outside companies, however they may require some payment up front and your physician may not directly receive a copy of your result.  The timing to do the test can also play an important role in accuracy, so it is best to speak to your physician before pursuing a test. 

If you feel you are at risk or need additional testing, contact your healthcare provider for further information on testing options and what kind of test may be right for you.

Can dogs detect COVID-19 in humans

Possibly

Evidence suggests that trained dogs are able to detect a change in odor in sweat which can occur with COVID-19 infection. The study was conducted at three sites and involved 198 individuals and 18 dogs. While this study is preliminary, may indicate the use of dogs (like those used to detect explosives and narcotics) may assist in detection of COVID-19.

What is contact tracing and what is its role in COVID-19 detection and prevention

Contact tracing is used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying and notifying those who may have had contact with someone who has tested COVID-19 positive. If you test positive, someone from the health department may contact you. Be sure to answer or return the phone call. Discussions with the health department are confidential and all information shared with them is shared only with people who need to know. Your name will not be shared with those you had contact with and only notify those people who have identified as being within 6 feet of you for 15 minutes or longer.  


If you are notified that you have been in close contact with someone known to have tested positive for COVID-19, you will be advised to monitor your health for signs of COVID-19 and self-quarantine for a period of time based on when the last contact with the infected person occurred. If you need help during self-quarantine, the health department and community organizations can provide assistance.

COVID-19 and other medical conditions

Know how COVID-19 is different from other viruses and allergies, how it affects pregnant people, and what it means if you lose your sense of smell and taste.

Strokes and COVID-19

Call 911 as soon as you experience these symptoms

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness or numbness
  • Trouble speaking or slurred speech

Getting treatment right away for a stroke increases a person’s chance of survival and recovery.

Recent reports in the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Stroke Association say that getting help at once for anyone of any age with signs of stroke will increase their chances of survival and recovery.

Don’t delay getting care because of concerns about going to the hospital during the pandemic.

The differences between COVID-19, a cold, the flu, and allergies

SignsCOVID-19ColdFluAllergies
FeverCommonRareCommonSometimes
Dry coughCommonMildCommonSometimes
Difficulty breathingCommonNoNoCommon
HeadachesSometimesRareCommonSometimes
Chills and shaking from chillsSometimesNoSometimesNo
Aches and painsSometimesCommonCommonNo
Sore throatSometimesCommonCommonNo
FatigueSometimesSometimesCommonSometimes
DiarrheaRareNoSometimesNo
Runny noseRareCommonSometimesCommon
SneezingNoCommonNoCommon
Sense of smell changed SometimesSometimesSometimesSometimes
Sense of taste changedSometimesSometimesSometimesSometimes
Sources: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time

Yes.

You can have the flu and other viral infections at the same time as COVID-19.

If you have flu symptoms

If you are experiencing severe flu symptoms, contact your provider within the first 48 hours.

Your provider will let you know what medication you can take.

The flu is still a very serious virus for people who are in a category for high risk of severe health conditions.

Contact your provider if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms to find out if you can be prescribed medication.

Follow self-isolation steps while getting plenty of rest and fluids.

The symptoms of flu are

  • fever
  • dry cough
  • headaches
  • aches and pains
  • sore throat
  • fatigue

You may also experience diarrhea, a runny nose, and a changed sense of smell or taste.

Managing COVID-19 Symptoms

For those experiencing symptoms, managing those symptoms can help you feel better faster. To manage your COVID-19 Symptoms:

  • Fluids and Rest are the most powerful immune system boosters we have. When the body is fighting an upper respiratory infection, it needs extra fluids to replace the losses from elevated body temperatures (fevers), mouth breathing, and extra mucus production. 
  • Saline Sinus Rinses can decrease pain associated with congestion and shorten the duration of symptoms. Options include Neti Pot Sinus Rinse or Neilmed Sinus Rinse. Always use distilled/sterile water or if using tap water be sure to boil it for 3-5 minutes (cool water before use). Simply Saline is a premixed saline option. 
  • Avoid Smoking and Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke
  • Other remedies that people have found helpful include drinking hot liquids  (such as broth or decaffeinated tea with lemon or honey) to soothe a sore throat and help with hydration; humidifiers to soothe dry and irritated nasal, throat and sinus passages as well as help reduce dry cough; and warm salt water gargles to soothe a sore throat and slow the replication of viruses and bacteria.  
  • Breathing exercises:
    •  Breathing control – Breathing control is focused on breathing gently with as little effort as possible.
    • Huffing – Huffing is when you breathe out (exhale) forcefully through your mouth without coughing.

Pregnancy and COVID-19

To best answer your questions about pregnancy and COVID-19, stay connected with your OB/GYN (obstetrician / gynecologist) or primary care provider (PCP).

Scientists are learning more about how COVID-19 affects pregnant women.

Here’s what we know about COVID-19 and pregnancy right now.

  • Pregnant women are not more likely to get infected with COVID-19.
  • Pregnant women who get respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, are at a higher risk for serious health conditions.
  • Health experts recommend following good hand hygiene and social distancing. Some doctors suggest 12 weeks of self-isolation as an added precaution, if you are able. Learn how to protect yourself.
  • A small study of pregnant women in China with confirmed COVID-19 found no evidence of the virus in their breast milk, cord blood, or amniotic fluid.

COVID-19 specific complications

What does it mean if I’ve lost my sense of smell and taste

Loss of smell (anosmia) and loss of taste (ageusia) were not listed on the  CDC’s symptom list as possible symptoms of COVID-19, but anecdotal evidence from across the world has shown that both are associated with active COVID-19 infection.  

Anosmia and ageusia can come on suddenly and can be the only symptom or it may be associated with fever or other symptoms but is not consistently associated with other nasal symptoms, such as runny nose or congestion.  It is thought to be a result of damage to neurons or receptors that are responsible for smell and taste.  It is not known how long these symptoms will last.  For some, the loss of smell and taste can persist for days or weeks; for others, it can be permanent.  More research is needed to fully understand the exact cause and duration. 

Still, loss of smell might help doctors identify people who do not have other signs of COVID-19, but who might be infected with COVID-19—and who might be unknowingly infecting others.

What are COVID toes

“COVID toes” is a skin condition associated with COVID-19 disease.  The toes may appear to have red or purple colored spots on them.  The spots can be associated with itching, sometimes mild pain, or they can have no additional symptoms.

This condition typically comes later in the disease, after a person has recovered from acute symptoms.  It is generally considered not to be harmful and it is associated with a mild disease course appearing a few weeks after initial symptoms. The exact cause of COVID toes is still being studied but it is thought that it is caused by immune system overreaction to the virus or small blood clots in the vessels of the toes.

No treatment is necessary and usually resolves on its own after a few weeks. Topical steroids can be used to provide some relief for those with bothersome symptoms.  There is a database for ongoing research of patients who develop COVID toes so alert your healthcare provider if you believe you or a family member have this condition.

What is Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C is a condition that can occur in children after exposure to COVID-19.  Fortunately, it remains rare but it is a syndrome that can involve multiple organ systems and can require hospitalization.  It happens more often in older children and adolescents, and it disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic children.  This disease has some similar features to Kawasaki disease, and it is still being studied.

Some of the symptoms may include rash, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, prolonged fever, red eyes, neck pain, and lethargy.  It can also affect the heart. 

Can you not know if you have COVID-19, or get it twice

Can I have COVID-19 and not know it

Yes.

You can have COVID-19 and not know it. There is increasing evidence that the virus can be spread by people before symptoms appear or without any symptoms.

People can spread COVID-19 without knowing it because symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear.

Some virus spreaders may never feel sick throughout their entire illness.

Social distancing and face coverings are critical to stop the spread while protecting yourself and those around you.

Can I get COVID-19 twice

It’s not likely you can get COVID-19 twice.

It is thought that your body will develop an immunity to COVID-19, and if you did have the virus, the likelihood of getting sick from it again is low.

Scientists are quickly learning about COVID-19 and there is much to learn.