A fever is a common symptom of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19). However, some people with COVID-19 do not develop a fever. A person may experience different symptoms or none at all.

According to an April 2020 study, about 55.5% of people with COVID-19 develop a fever. This suggests that a substantial number of people with the disease do not have this symptom.

In this article, we look at the symptoms of COVID-19, how common they are, and what to do if the symptoms appear.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Anyone can develop this illness, and its symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe.

Also, COVID-19 can affect people differently, and some develop other, less common symptoms.

The same study that identified a fever in only 55.5% of participants with confirmed COVID-19 also found that symptoms such as a dry cough were not universal. The following table shows how many of the 202 study participants experienced each symptom:

SymptomPrevalence (%)
Smell and taste disturbance64.4
Dry or productive cough60.4
Muscle or joint pain44.6
Problems breathing41.1
Sore throat31.2

Other studies have found varying results. A July 2020 study, for example, found that 51.2% of participants with confirmed COVID-19 developed a fever.

A different study from April found that out of 57,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, only 30.7% of people had a fever when admitted to a hospital.

These figures suggest that many people have COVID-19 without a fever. Additionally, according to a March 2020 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), around 80% of people with COVID-19 experience mild or no symptoms.

COVID-19 affects people in different ways, and there can be a variety of early symptoms.

However, in research from August 2020, a team of scientists put forward a hypothesis that people develop COVID-19 symptoms in the following order:

  • a fever
  • muscle pain and a dry cough
  • vomiting, nausea, or both
  • diarrhea

This suggests that among people who do develop a fever, it may be one of the earliest symptoms. However, proving that this order of symptoms is accurate will require further studies.

COVID-19 is a disease that stems from an infection with the virus SARS-CoV-2 — and according to the WHO, symptoms of the illness can take up to 14 days to appear after the person contracts the infection.

People with mild symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 should stay at home and isolate themselves from other household members, if possible. The CDC advise:

  • using a separate bedroom or bathroom
  • avoiding contact with relatives or pets
  • not sharing personal items, such as cutlery, glasses, bedding, or towels
  • wearing a mask when isolation or physical distancing are not possible

Anyone with symptoms should call a doctor for advice about what to do next. It is important to mention any underlying conditions, as these may increase the likelihood of COVID-19 symptoms becoming severe.

Most people who develop COVID-19 have mild symptoms and get better without treatment. However, if symptoms are severe or seem to be worsening rapidly, dial 911 or otherwise request emergency medical aid.

Warning signs include:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • trouble breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • bluish lips, fingers or toes, or skin
  • trouble waking up or staying awake
  • new confusion

Do not visit a medical facility without calling ahead and letting the staff know that COVID-19 is a possibility.

The best way to reduce the chances of contracting SARS-CoV-2 is to prevent transmission. The CDC recommend:

  • Hand washing: Wash the hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Or, when running water is unavailable, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. This is especially important:
    • before touching the face, eyes, nose, or mouth
    • before preparing and eating food
    • after touching used tissues, masks, gloves, or other personal protective equipment
    • after leaving a public place
    • after using the restroom or handling a used diaper
    • after blowing the nose, sneezing, or coughing
    • after touching animals
    • after caring for someone who is ill or may have been exposed to the virus
  • Catch coughs and sneezes: Coughing or sneezing into tissues or the inside of the elbow limits how many respiratory droplets enter the air. Dispose of used tissues in designated bins and wash the hands for at least 20 seconds afterward.
  • Physical distancing: Avoiding close contact with others reduces the risk of exposure to respiratory droplets that may contain SARS-CoV-2. Stay 6 feet, or 2 meters, away from others, especially in public or around people who may be sick.
  • Increase cleaning and disinfecting: Clean frequently used surfaces and objects with soap and water before thoroughly using a household disinfectant. This includes objects such as:
    • doorknobs, handles, and locks
    • faucets and sinks
    • light switches
    • drawer handles
    • cell phones and tablets
    • keyboards and mouses
    • tables and desks
  • Wear a mask: A person can pass on SARS-CoV-2 even if they do not feel sick. Wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose while around people from outside the household reduces the chances of this happening.

Mask recommendations

The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear cloth face masks in indoor public settings. If case numbers are high in the area, it may be best to wear a mask outdoors, as well.

This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.

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While a fever is commonly associated with COVID-19, many people may have the illness but no fever.

It is worth noting that when people experience COVID-19 symptoms, they tend to be mild. Anyone with any of these symptoms should take steps to isolate themselves and call a doctor for advice.