Could you have had COVID-19 and not even realized it? Possibly. “The majority of people who contract the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms, the most common being a high temperature and a new, dry and continuous cough. A smaller percentage of people will experience more severe symptoms,” explains Dr. Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead at Treated.com.
However, because the coronavirus actually has a spectrum of symptoms—some so mild they are barely noticeable or easily confused with something else—it can go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Read on to discover the 10 subtle signs you’ve already had coronavirus.
Dr. Atkinson maintains that the trifecta of a runny nose, sore throat, and congestion, can signify a mild case of COVID-19. However, because it “sounds, and likely feels, a lot like the common cold, or a hay fever allergy,” many people likely brushed them off.
Some people who experience a loss of their taste and smell may have contracted the coronavirus. “It’s a symptom that might accompany really mild symptoms, like those not dissimilar to the common cold—runny nose, congestion and sore throat—but it can also accompany the very mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, fever and a continuous cough,” Dr. Atkinson points out. While it is not fully understood yet why some people report experiencing a loss in taste and smell, it is thought that in the majority of cases the sense returns after no more than six weeks, he explains.
Dr. Atkinson adds that when your body is infected by a virus like COVID-19, your appetite can become reduced. “If this is accompanied by a loss of taste and smell it can make wanting to eat or drink really difficult,” he explains. “It’s really important to drink plenty of fluids to help your body combat the virus and minimize the symptoms and even if you don’t feel like it, try to eat something, even if it’s just a snack or a small meal.”
As novel coronavirus is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, things like coughing, a sore throat and breathlessness can occur as symptoms, explains Dr. Atkinson. While the most common is the dry, continuous cough often reported on, if you’re feeling breathless—more so than usual—and if it happens when you’re at rest, then it may be cause for concern and you should (or should have) sought medical advice straight away.
When your body is fighting any kind of infection, it uses up energy. “Most people will feel tired or lethargic so won’t be exercising or going to work when they’re ill but some fitness enthusiasts insist on continuing with exercise to try and battle on through,” explains Dr. Atkinson. This is not usually helpful, the body needs time to rest physically whilst the immune system does the work so take a break from the circuit training for a few days. “You should not ignore your body’s signals,” he adds. “Resting and sleeping while you’re unwell is an essential part of your recovery.”
If you notice some weird marking on your toes or hands, they might have been due to a COVID-19 infection. “The skin is often a window into a person’s health and may show subtle signs of COVID-19 infection,” explains Caroline Nelson, MD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist. According to Dr. Nelson, Morbilliform (“measles-like”) exanthems (many, often symmetric, pink-to-red bumps that can merge together) and hives (itchy red wheels on the skin) have been associated with COVID-19 infection.
“They are found most often in otherwise asymptomatic children and young adults,” says Dr. Nelson. “It is important to note that these skin signs are non-specific, meaning that they can be associated with other infections, systemic disorders, and medication reactions. It is important to seek medical advice from your physician.”
If you have recently suffered from conjunctivitis, a.k.a. pink eye, it could have been due to COVID-19. “Several reports suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can cause a mild follicular conjunctivitis otherwise indistinguishable from other viral causes, and possibly be transmitted by aerosol contact with conjunctiva,” the American Academy of Ophthalmology recently said in a statement. This is why some experts are recommending contact lens wearers to switch to glasses during the pandemic.
According to the CDC, “Some persons with COVID-19 have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea prior to developing fever and lower respiratory tract signs and symptoms.” In fact, a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that digestive issues were more common in those with COVID-19 than previously thought, and that up to half of patients diagnosed complained about one of these symptoms.
Did you have a fever that came and went so quickly you brushed it off? Well, it could have been COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, 87.9% of 55,924 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus reported a fever—making it by far the most common symptom.
Perhaps you wrote off those body aches, pains, and soreness due to overexertion. Or maybe you thought you had the flu. However, according to the CDC muscle pain is a symptom of coronavirus.
Dr. Atkinson points out that the only way to know for sure if you had COVID-19 is by using an antibody test, a test that confirms whether or not someone had been infected with the virus in the past. Hopefully they will be widely available in the near future; currently, they are only available for medical professionals.
Early results are eye-opening. University of Southern California (USC) and the L.A. County Department of Health recently released preliminary results of their antibody tests, finding that many more people were infected with COVID-19 than they previously thought. According to their research, somewhere between 28 to 55 times more people have the antibody—which means they carried the virus—than the number of confirmed cases in the county. Call your doctor if you think you have COVID-19.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.