COVID-19 Symptoms: What Researchers Know Now

The list of known symptoms has grown since COVID-19 emerged in early 2020.

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When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020—before it even had the name COVID-19—there was a lot that researchers didn’t know about it. Access to testing was a challenge, treatment options were unclear, and there were only a few known symptoms. At that time, the main COVID-19 symptoms were dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath.

But researchers learned more over time. As the months passed, doctors learned about potential treatments. By the end of 2020, there was a safe and effective vaccine—quickly followed by additional effective vaccine options. And today, researchers know much more about ways that COVID-19 can present—including many more possible symptoms.

COVID-19 Symptoms, Updated

As of March 2021, COVID-19 symptoms include the following, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough, which might be a dry cough (but doesn’t have to be)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • New loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms usually start between two to 14 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19. That said, many people do not experience any symptoms at all. This is known as being asymptomatic. That’s why COVID-19 testing is so important. Testing can tell you if you have the infection or not, so you know if you should isolate at home to protect others. (Find out what to do if you test positive here.)

COVID-19 vs. Other Respiratory Infections

It can be hard to distinguish between COVID-19 and other infections, such as the flu or common cold. They have many symptoms in common.

If your symptoms are limited to congestion, runny nose, and sneezing, there’s a good chance you just have a cold. On the other hand, if you feel more aches and pains, it’s more likely to be the flu or COVID-19. Finally, shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell are good indicators of COVID-19. Those two symptoms are less common for the flu.

Still, it’s not always that cut and dry. This is yet another important reason to get tested if you are having any symptoms that resemble COVID-19, or if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19.