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Coronavirus Diagnosis: What Should I Expect?

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As doctors and care providers work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it, people want to know what happens if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention, explains what to expect.

How will I feel if I have COVID-19?

A mild case of COVID-19 might seem like a bad case of the flu. You may start feeling achy, feverish, and have chills or nausea, and then wake up the next day feeling sick. You may have some or all of these symptoms:

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

If you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately or go to an emergency room. If you have other symptoms listed above, call your doctor. He or she will say whether you need a test or should obtain care.

Most people with a mild case of COVID-19 can rest at home and self-isolate.

How do I get diagnosed if I think I might have COVID-19?

Call a doctor or urgent care center and describe your symptoms. The doctor may suggest you get tested for COVID-19. Follow the instructions for your care and treatment.

Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you are experiencing severe breathing difficulties or any other life-threatening situation.

If I have COVID-19, how long will it take until I feel better?

Those with a mild case of COVID-19 appear to recover within one to two weeks. For severe cases, recovery may take six weeks or more, and there may be lasting damage to the heart, kidneys, lungs and brain.

About 1% of infected people worldwide will die from the disease.

Is there medicine I can take to feel better if I have COVID-19?

For most people, rest and drinking plenty of fluids are the best treatments. Your doctor may also suggest you take over-the-counter medication for fever.

More severe cases require hospitalization. Care at a hospital varies depending on the individual. You may get breathing support, such as a ventilator, or other treatments.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-Checker

Check symptoms. Protect yourself. Get information.

If I get diagnosed with COVID-19, what should I do to keep my family safe?

As much as possible, you should stay in one room away from other people in your home. Also, use a separate bathroom if available.

If you have to be in the same room as other people, you should wear a face mask. If you cannot wear a face mask (for some, face masks may cause trouble breathing), people who live with you should not be in the same room as you. If they do enter your room, they should wear a face mask.

You — or someone else — should keep your house clean and sanitized by following these steps:

  • Do not share personal household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, utensils, towels or bedding with other people, or with pets. After using these items, wash them thoroughly.
  • Every day, clean all “high-touch” surfaces. These include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.
  • Clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool or other body fluids on them.
  • You can use a household cleaning and disinfectant spray or wipe. Be sure to follow the label instructions on the cleaning product for safe and effective use.

You should also practice good hygiene, including washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue (and then throwing the tissue away).

How can I care for my pets if I have COVID-19?

While researchers are still studying the risk of spreading the coronavirus between humans and pets, it’s best to follow the same safety measures with your pet as you would with people.

  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.
  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals.
  • If you must care for them, wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after.

After a coronavirus diagnosis, when is it safe for me to go out in public?

Talk to your doctor. In general, you can resume contact with other people after:

  • You have had three days without fever, AND
  • It has been at least 10 days since you first experienced symptoms, AND
  • Your symptoms are improving.

If you have a suppressed immune system or other special circumstances, your doctor may recommend a longer period of isolation and/or further testing. If you test negative for the coronavirus twice in a row, with tests at least 24 hours apart, you can resume contact with others.

Does a coronavirus diagnosis mean I’ll get pneumonia?

Some patients with COVID-19 may develop pneumonia, a lung infection, if the virus makes its way to the lungs. If you have pneumonia, the air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluid, which impairs the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen and results in difficulty breathing. Viral pneumonia, such as from COVID-19, cannot be treated with antibiotics. In severe cases, ventilator support may be needed to ensure sufficient oxygen circulation in the body.

People over age 65 and those with preexisting conditions are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia and may experience more severe symptoms. Studies show that in patients with COVID-19, pneumonia may progress into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can be fatal in some patients.

Can I get COVID-19 more than once?

Researchers are eager to learn more about a person’s immunity after having COVID-19. For some viruses, a person can have lasting immunity; for others, the immunity lasts only a limited time. More research will reveal how the body responds to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do people get infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

If you test positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, here’s what likely happened: Viral droplets transmitted from a cough or sneeze by a person infected with the virus entered through your nose, mouth or eyes. In rarer cases, people become infected after touching something with someone’s droplets on it, and then touching their face.

From there, the virus travels to the back of your nasal passages and to the mucous membranes in the back of your throat. That’s the place where symptoms — such as a sore throat and dry cough — often start. Then the virus spreads down the airway passages to the lungs. When the lungs’ membranes become inflamed, it’s harder for them to work properly.

In addition to causing problems in the lungs, the virus may cause nausea, diarrhea or indigestion if it infects cells in the gastrointestinal system.

In the most severe cases, COVID-19 may lead to organ failure and death. 

Scientist carefully insets a pipette into a test tube.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

What you need to know from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Updated July 7, 2020.

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