Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a viral infection that causes COVID-19. Symptoms can affect the airways and lungs, although this may vary from person to person.

The following article outlines the early signs and symptoms of the infection, how to spot them, and what to do if a person experiences symptoms.

a woman with a dry cough which is one of the   early symptoms of coronavirusShare on Pinterest
A dry cough is a common early symptom of coronavirus infection.

Once a person has contracted coronavirus, it can take 214 days for symptoms to appear. The average incubation period appears to be roughly 5–6 days.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of coronavirus can be mild and come on gradually. According to The Lancet, when hospital admission is necessary, this typically occurs from 7 days onwards.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that a person with COVID-19 can experience a wide range of symptoms, often including a dry cough and shortness of breath.

They may also have a combination of at least two of the following symptoms:

According to 2020 research, the prevalence of some of these symptoms appears to be:

SymptomPrevalence (%)
Dry cough60.4
Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties41.1
Fever55.5
Muscle pain44.6
Headache42.6
Sore throat31.2
Smell and taste disturbance64.4
Fatigue68.3

Fever

Doctors consider a temperature of 100.4°F or higher to be a fever.

A person with a fever will feel hot to touch on their back or chest.

Dry cough

A dry cough does not produce mucus.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), if a person notices they are coughing a lot for over an hour, or they have three or more coughing episodes in a day, they may have coronavirus.

Fatigue

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness and an overall lack of energy. A person with fatigue may feel drained, weak, or sluggish.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is a subjective feeling. However, those experiencing shortness of breath may describe it feeling as if they are suffocating, or unable to catch their breath.

Other symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • blocked nose
  • diarrhea
  • sputum, or coughed up mucus and saliva
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Symptoms of COVID-19 in children and young adults are more likely to be mild.

Early symptoms of coronavirus infection in children are similar to those in adults.

According to the CDC, early symptoms in children with a coronavirus infection occur in the following percentages:

SymptomPrevalence (%)
Fever56
Dry cough54
Shortness of breath13

Fever and cough appear to be the common symptoms of COVID-19 that people report in children.

Children may also develop additional symptoms, such as:

  • blocked nose
  • muscle pain
  • runny nose
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain

Children with COVID-19 are likely to recover in 12 weeks with no additional issues.

Parents and carers with children who are showing signs of a coronavirus infection should contact their health service provider and keep the child at home.

The child should also stay away from other people, especially those at higher risk of developing severe illness from coronavirus.

People who are experiencing mild COVID-19 will typically be able to recover at home without hospital treatment.

However, around 1 in 5 people with a coronavirus infection will become seriously unwell and develop breathing difficulties.

Anyone noticing the following symptoms should seek medical attention immediately:

  • trouble breathing
  • constant pain, or pressure, in the chest
  • confusion
  • inability to wake up
  • blue tinted lips or face

A person with any of these symptoms, or other symptoms that are severe or causing concern, should call 911 immediately.

People should also tell the service operator that they think they have contracted coronavirus. If possible, they should put on a cloth face mask or covering before help arrives.

If a person notices that they or a child has symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, they should:

  • self-isolate at home, keeping separate from others in the property
  • stay indoors, unless seeking medical aid
  • get plenty of rest
  • stay hydrated with plenty of liquids
  • take over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medicine to soothe symptoms
  • monitor symptoms and phone the doctor if necessary
  • wear a face mask when around other individuals
  • follow local health department guidelines
  • cover their mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • wash hands regularly and thoroughly
  • avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • keep separate glasses, cups, dishes, eating utensils, towels, and bedding if sharing a house with others
  • clean and disinfect surfaces, such as doorknobs, counters, remote controls, phones, keyboards, bathroom surfaces, or tables frequently

A person can learn how to wash their hands properly here.

People who have symptoms of coronavirus infection should continue to self-isolate and follow these guidelines for 14 days, even if they begin to feel healthy.

If a person is caring for someone with early symptoms of coronavirus infection, they should ensure they follow guidelines to protect themselves and the care receiver.

These can include:

  • helping the care receiver follow any instructions from a doctor
  • keeping them hydrated
  • helping with groceries, prescriptions, and other requirements
  • caring for any pets
  • providing the care receiver with OTC medications when appropriate
  • monitoring their symptoms and looking for signs that they may need more medical help
  • washing cloth face masks after use
  • monitoring their own health for coronavirus symptoms
  • wearing disposable gloves when washing the care receiver’s dirty laundry
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces daily
  • using a separate bedroom and bathroom from the care receiver
  • ensuring good air ventilation to reduce chances of getting the virus

The person giving care should make sure they limit contact, as much as possible, with the individual they are caring for.

The carer should wear a face mask when near the sick person, and gloves if they come into contact with their blood, stool, or bodily fluids.

If the care receiver is trouble breathing easily, they should also always wear a face mask when the carer is nearby.

Frequently washing hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water is critical for the carer.

Coronavirus typically spreads via small water droplets that a person with the virus produces when they talk, cough, or sneeze. When another person inhales these droplets, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can enter the body.

Droplets in the air can also land on surfaces and objects. People who touch these contaminated surfaces are at risk of infection if they then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth before washing their hands.

Some people may transmit the virus despite being asymptomatic. However, researchers do not know how often this may happen.

People should follow the guidelines put in place by their local health organizations to ensure they keep themselves and others safe.

A person can protect themselves from coronavirus by following the CDC guidelines.

They include:

  • washing hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
  • using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if washing hands is not possible
  • avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • keeping away from people with a coronavirus infection
  • keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other people
  • covering mouth and nose with a face cover when around others
  • covering nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that will usually produce symptoms a person can manage at home. However, it can occasionally cause severe illness.

People with a coronavirus infection should ensure they follow guidelines and self-isolate for 14 days from when they become sick.

If a person with COVID-19 has trouble breathing, or experiences other concerning symptoms, they should call 911 and seek medical attention.