In the midst of a pandemic, people may be concerned about feeling unwell and worry about the cause of their symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 typically appear 2–14 days after exposure to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus.
In this article, we discuss how long it takes for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear, what those symptoms are, how to treat them, and when to see a doctor.
A person can develop COVID-19 after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The virus spreads primarily through saliva droplets or discharge from the nose when a person who has contracted it sneezes or coughs.
Regular and thorough hand washing is effective in helping prevent the spread of illness, and the widespread use of cloth face coverings may also help.
The incubation period is the time between the exposure to a virus or bacteria and the appearance of symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that symptoms typically appear 2–14 days after exposure.
The findings of 2020 research on 181 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection suggest that 97.5% of those who are symptomatic will begin to show symptoms within 11.5 days. The researchers also estimate that the mean incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 was 5.1 days.
Although the majority of people develop symptoms within 14 days of getting the virus, in some people, it can take longer. The study authors note that other research has shown that in 101 of every 10,000 individuals who get COVID-19, the incubation period is longer than 14 days.
According to the CDC, the symptoms of COVD-19 include:
- chills or fever
- shortness of breath
- muscle aches
- body aches
- new loss of smell or taste
- nasal congestion or a runny nose
- sore throat
- vomiting or nausea
However, some cases can be more serious. Severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:
- difficulty breathing
- persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- bluish lips or face
- new confusion
In a Chinese study involving 651 people who went to the hospital with COVID-19 in the Zhejiang province, more than 11% of them presented with at least one gastrointestinal symptom. These symptoms included nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Further research in China reports that digestive symptoms are common in people with COVID-19.
If a person suspects that they have contracted the virus and are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to contact a healthcare provider.
By calling ahead of visiting, people can protect themselves and others.
The CDC recommend:
- Staying at home: Self-isolation is important to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread. A person should only leave home to receive medical care.
- Monitoring symptoms: Keep a record of how any symptoms develop.
- Resting and staying hydrated: Get as much sleep as possible and drink plenty of water. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help, including acetaminophen.
- Maintaining distance from other people: As much as possible, stay in another room away from other household members and use a separate bathroom if one is available. Wear a cloth face covering or mask if coming into close contact with others.
- Avoiding using public transport or taxis: Isolate from the public.
Caring for others
For those caring for a person with COVID-19, there are a number of recommended guidelines to follow. These include:
- ensuring that they take any medication that a healthcare professional has recommended or prescribed
- reminding them to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated
- using OTC medications to try to control fever and help the person feel better
- making sure that the person has food and supplies and helping them use a delivery service if possible
- limiting their contact with pets
- using separate rooms to sleep and eat in and avoiding sharing personal items
- wearing a cloth face covering or face mask when caring for the person
- washing the hands often and regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces
If a person believes that they have come into contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they should contact a healthcare professional for advice. A person should always call ahead before visiting so that the medical staff can prepare and protect other individuals.
It is also important for people to practice preventive measures, such as hand washing and physical distancing.
They should also wear face masks in public settings where physical distancing measures may be difficult to maintain.
These settings include:
- hospitals and other healthcare settings
- grocery stores
Although the time that it takes for COVID-19 symptoms to appear varies from person to person, the mean incubation period is 5.1 days.
A person should seek immediate medical advice if they experience any severe symptoms.
People with milder symptoms should manage them at home and avoid contact with others to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A person should also follow other key recommendations, such as keeping physical distance where possible and washing the hands regularly.