Coronavirus disease 2019, more famously known as COVID-19, is a highly infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus called the SARS-CoV-2. This new virus was first identified as the cause of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. Soon, the virus that spread rapidly resulted in an epidemic throughout China, followed by a global pandemic. Presently, scientists are still working on the best treatment and its vaccines. Nonetheless, public awareness, active corona testings and strict preventive measures have been quite effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Practices like regular handwashing with soap, social distancing, wearing facemasks, avoiding crowds and travelling have been proven in minimising the risk of getting infected. This is because the virus is transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets. An infected person can spread the virus when he talks, coughs or sneezes. Moreover, the virus can survive on surfaces for days, making it possible for one to infect himself by touching contaminated surfaces like handles, door knobs and elevator buttons, and then touching his face, nose and mouth. Besides, an infected person may not show any symptoms yet but is capable of spreading the virus particularly during the incubation period. The incubation period of COVID-19 is generally 14 days but most cases occurred four to five days after exposure.
The most serious and frequent presentation of COVID-19 is pneumonia. So other than fever and dry mouth, a patient with COVID-19 also has respiratory tract symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of smell and taste and runny nose. Other common symptoms reported include muscle ache, headache, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. To date, there is no one specific symptom that can reliably distinguish COVID-19 from other respiratory infections. However, it is worth noticing that the onset of shortness of breath often starts one week after the onset of other initial symptoms. A report of over 370,000 cases showed that 50% had coughing and 43% had fever of over 38 degree Celsius. This shows that fever is not a universal finding. Although fever was reported in almost all cases, about 20% had low grade fever of less than 38 degree Celsius. Another study in China noted that only 44% of patients had fever during admission, but 89% of them ultimately developed it after hospitalisation.
Other than fever and cough, symptoms of loss of smell and taste (known as anosmia and dysgeusia) were also commonly reported in some studies. A survey of 202 patients with mild COVID-19 in Italy found that 64% of them had changes in smell and taste. 24% complained it was severe, while 3% reported as the only symptom of COVID-19.
However, the self-reported rates of smell and taste anomalies may be overestimated. A study that conducted an evaluation on COVID-19 patients with loss of smell and taste symptoms found that 38% of them had normal smell function. Furthermore, the loss of smell and taste associated with COVID-19 are not permanent. Most patients reported improvement of smell and taste functions within four weeks.
A minority of patients infected with COVID-19 presented with gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. A study noted the prevalence overall was 18%, with 13% having diarrhea, 10% with nausea and vomiting, and 9% with abdominal pain. Other rarer symptoms reported include conjunctivitis, general health decline and delirium, especially in older adults. Skin symptoms of COVID-19 are not well characterised. There have been reports of rashes or blisters both in children and adults, but the association of COVID-19 and skin symptoms is not well established.
The following is a list of reported known symptoms associated with COVID-19. Call up your doctors if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Cough (50%)
- Fever (43%)
- Muscle ache (36%)
- Headaches (34%)
- Shortness of breath (29%)
- Sore throat (20%)
- Diarrhea (19%)
- Nausea/vomiting (12%)
- Loss of smell, taste, abdominal pain and runny nose (less than 10% each)
- Shortness of breath (29%)