woman taking her temperature
woman taking her temperature
woman taking her temperature

Coronavirus Diagnosis: What Should I Expect?

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Updated on January 24, 2022

Having COVID-19 varies greatly from one person to another. What happens if you are diagnosed with COVID-19? Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention, explains what to expect.

What are the stages of coronavirus infection?

There are three general phases of infection with SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Incubation period. This is the time between getting infected and when symptoms appear. In general, you may see symptoms start two to 14 days after infection. The incubation period varies among individuals, and it varies depending on the variant. Even though you do not have symptoms in the incubation period, you can transmit the coronavirus to another person during this stage.

This is why, if you suspect you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should self-quarantine, watch for symptoms and consider getting tested four or five days following the exposure. This way, you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please review Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for isolation and quarantine.

Acute COVID-19. Once symptoms appear, you have entered the acute stage. You may have fever, cough and other COVID-19 symptoms. Active illness can last one to two weeks if you have mild or moderate coronavirus disease, but severe cases can last months. Some people are asymptomatic, meaning they never have symptoms but do have COVID-19.

If you develop symptoms or suspect you are asymptomatically infected, call your health care provider, follow testing guidelines, and follow all isolation and safety guidelines.

COVID-19 recovery. Post-COVID-19 symptoms, such as lingering cough, on and off fever, weakness, and changes to your senses of smell or taste, can persist for weeks or even months after you recover from acute illness. Persistent symptoms are sometimes known as long COVID-19.

Test results may remain positive for weeks to several months following infection, but this does not necessarily mean you are still infectious. Most people are no longer infectious beyond the recommended isolation precautions period. If you have conditions that cause severe immunosuppression, contact your health care provider to determine how long you should isolate and how to determine when you are no longer potentially infectious to others.

What are COVID-19 symptoms?

Symptoms can be severe, mild or absent altogether. Some people recover from COVID-19 with no problems, while others are left with lingering effects, and still others require hospitalization or die from complications due to COVID-19.

If you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor. He or she will say whether you need a test and recommend what you should do.

  • 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

Severe COVID-19 When to Call 911

You should call 911 or an emergency care facility if you experience any severe symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Be sure to tell the 911 dispatcher or emergency room if you have been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19.

How long do COVID symptoms last?

Those with a mild case of COVID-19 usually recover in one to two weeks. For severe cases, recovery can take six weeks or more, and for some, there may be lasting symptoms with or without damage to the heartkidneyslungs and brain.

Can I get COVID-19 more than once?

Yes. Re-infection with the coronavirus, especially with one of the coronavirus variants, is possible if you previously had COVID-19.

The best protection is to get fully vaccinated and receive a booster when eligible, wear a face mask in public, practice physical distancing and wash your hands frequently.

Will I get COVID-19 pneumonia?

Some patients with COVID-19 develop pneumonia. Viral pneumonia, including that caused by COVID-19, cannot be treated with antibiotics. Some severe cases of COVID-19 may require ventilator support to ensure the body is getting enough oxygen. Other medications, including antivirals, may also be administered.

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

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

Treatment of COVID-19 involves addressing symptoms. If you are at risk for severe coronavirus disease, your doctor may recommend one or more COVID-19 treatments, but for most people with mild COVID-19, rest and drinking plenty of fluids are the best approach. Your doctor may also suggest you take over-the-counter medication for fever.

More severe cases require hospital care, including breathing support, mechanical ventilation, or other medical treatments.

After COVID-19, when is it safe for me to be around other people?

If you are infected with COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who is infected, it is very important to separate yourself from others so that you do not spread COVID-19 further. The CDC provides recommendations on isolation and quarantine.

If I have COVID-19, how can I keep my family safer?

There are several ways to help protect your family:

  • Make sure everyone in your family is fully vaccinated and has a booster when eligible.
  • Anyone testing positive for the coronavirus should stay in one room away from other people in your home as much as possible. Use a separate bathroom if one is available.
  • If you must be in the same room as other people, you and they should wear face masks. 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.
  • Everyone should 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).

Here are additional precautions:

  • 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.
  • All “high-touch” surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected daily, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.
  • Any surfaces that may have blood, stool or other body fluids on them should be cleaned right away.
  • Household cleaning and disinfectant sprays or wipes are effective: You do not need special products. Be sure to follow the label instructions on the cleaning product for safe and effective use.

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

According to the CDC, the virus may spread from people to animals during close contact, so 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 while you are ill.
  • If you must care for them, wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Scientist carefully insets a pipette into a test tube.

What you need to know from Johns Hopkins Medicine.