“[W]hy does the CDC’s list of symptoms keep growing? [Because] COVID-19 is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus … “
By Korin Miller |
Jun 29, 2020 [republished July 17, 2020]
Prevention – When COVID-19 first started spreading in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a short list of symptoms to watch out for: fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
As research on the novel coronavirus and testing expanded, the official list grew to a total of nine symptoms in April.
Now, the agency has once again added three more signs of coronavirus to its list: congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
The CDC didn’t make an official announcement about the additional symptoms—they just appeared on the agency’s official list.
(Plus, they may not exactly feel new, as the World Health Organization identified these symptoms back in February.)
So, why does the CDC’s list of symptoms keep growing?
It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, explains infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security:
“We’re now learning about the full spectrum of illness. Early on, most of our information was coming from severe cases in hospitals. Now that we’re able to test more widely, we’re able to see all of the different symptoms that may not have been noticed before.”
What are the official symptoms of COVID-19?
As of press time, the symptoms below are listed as possible signs of COVID-19 by the CDC, which may pop up two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Note: The agency says this list doesn’t include every possible coronavirus symptom—for instance, some patients have reported a mysterious skin rash, but that has not yet been added.
The following list will continuously be updated as more information becomes available.
1. Fever or chills
This is one of the most common signs of COVID-19, doctors say. A fever is defined as having a temperature of 100.4° F or higher.
Patients usually experience a dry cough, which means nothing comes up with the cough, like phlegm or mucus.
3. Shortness of breath
This is more common in severe cases of COVID-19, Dr. Adalja says. Shortness of breath can range in severity from feeling winded during otherwise normal activities (like walking up a flight of stairs) to having trouble breathing on your own.
You may feel exhausted, given that your body is working hard to fight the virus. “It doesn’t leave much energy left over for you,” says Susan Besser, M.D., a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
5. Muscle or body aches
This is another typical symptom of other viral infections, like the flu, and can be a direct result of a fever, says David Cutler, M.D., a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Having a fever “can cause the body to feel achy all over,” he says, due to your system’s inflammatory response.
A fever can also result in a lingering headache, Dr. Cutler says. Other side effects of being sick, like not sleeping well, eating as you normally would, or drinking enough water can also lead to a pounding head.
7. New loss of taste or smell
This is actually not unheard of after someone gets sick from a virus, says Rachel Kaye, M.D., assistant professor of laryngology-voice, airway, and swallowing disorders at Rutgers University. Viruses can inflame your nasal cavity lining, causing it to swell—and that can change your ability to smell and taste things, she explains.
8. Sore throat
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, so it can cause excess mucus to drip down the back of your nose and throat. That, along with constantly coughing, can irritate your throat, Dr. Besser says.
9. Congestion or runny nose (most recently added)
If you’ve ever had a nasty cold or flu, you know these symptoms tend to be common with viral respiratory infections. Congestion or a runny nose can be a direct result of that nasal cavity swelling that messes with your sense of smell, Dr. Kaye says.
10. Nausea or vomiting (most recently added)
It’s not entirely clear why this can happen, but there are a few theories. Nausea and vomiting may be due to increased drainage from the postnasal drip into the stomach, Dr. Besser says. But, she adds, it could simply be the way the virus behaves in some people.
Research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology also theorized that the virus may cause these symptoms because it can enter your system through “a receptor found in both the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract where it is expressed at nearly 100-fold higher levels than in respiratory organs.”
11. Diarrhea (most recently added)
The theories behind diarrhea as a symptom are the same as they are for nausea or vomiting—the virus may simply take root in the digestive tract in a “unique sub-group” of people, the same American Journal of Gastroenterology study found. After analyzing the symptoms of more than 200 people who had a mild case of COVID-19, they found that nearly 20% of them had diarrhea as their first symptom.
How can you tell if your symptoms are caused by COVID-19, a cold, or allergies?
At this point, it feels like pretty much any upper respiratory symptom could be a sign of COVID-19. So, it’s only natural to wonder if you’re dealing with allergies, a cold, or COVID-19 if you develop pretty average symptoms like a runny nose, cough, or headache.
Here’s How Long Coronavirus Symptoms Last
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell the difference. “In some cases, it’s going to be impossible to distinguish the symptoms of allergies or a cold from COVID-19,” Dr. Adalja says. However, he recommends keeping your personal history in mind. If you’ve never dealt with allergies in the past, but suddenly have symptoms, you may want to be more concerned than if you’ve always experienced seasonal allergies and have symptoms.
Another big tip-off, per Dr. Adalja: Allergies don’t cause a fever (but they can cause a headache and cough). Allergies also tend to cause symptoms that come on more gradually—say, over days or weeks—while signs of COVID-19 can come on much faster, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network.
Dr. Parikh urges people not to jump to conclusions—especially if you’ve been practicing known COVID-prevention strategies like maintaining a six-foot distance from others, washing your hands often, and wearing a mask in public—unless you’ve been around someone who recently tested positive for the virus, and have a fever with unexplained fatigue. If you’re not sure, call your doctor, who will be able to guide you on the next best steps.
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