COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by a new, or novel, virus called SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 has spread throughout the world and within the United States.
COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:
This is not a complete list of possible symptoms. Symptoms may change with new variants of the virus.
Some people may have no symptoms at all. Many have only some, but not all of the symptoms. Symptoms can also vary, depending on whether you are vaccinated and boosted.
Symptoms may develop within 2 to 14 days after you are exposed to the virus. Most often, symptoms appear around 5 days after exposure. However, you can spread the virus even when you do not have symptoms.
More severe symptoms that require seeking medical help right away include:
Older people and people with certain existing health conditions have a higher risk of developing severe illness and death. Health conditions that increase your risk include:
Coronavirus novel 2019 - symptoms; 2019 Novel coronavirus - symptoms; SARS-Co-V2 - symptoms
Some symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the common cold and the flu, so it can be hard to know for sure if you have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But COVID-19 is not a cold, and it is not a flu.
The only way to know if you have COVID-19 is to be tested. If you want to be tested, you should contact your health care provider or use a home diagnostic test. You can also visit your state or local health department’s website. This will give you the latest local guidance on testing.
Most people with the illness have mild to moderate symptoms and recover fully. Whether you get tested or not, if you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should avoid contact with other people so you don't spread the illness.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) consider COVID-19 a serious public health threat. For the most up-to-date news and information about COVID-19, you can visit the following websites:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Coronavirus (COVID-19) -- www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
World Health Organization website. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic -- www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can affect people and animals. They can cause mild to severe respiratory illnesses.
COVID-19 spreads to people within close contact (about 6 feet or 2 meters). When someone with the illness coughs or sneezes, infectious droplets spray into the air. You can catch the illness if you breathe in or touch these particles and then touch your face, nose, mouth, or eyes.
If you have COVID-19 or think you have it, you must isolate yourself at home and avoid contact with other people, both inside and outside your home, to avoid spreading the illness. This is called home isolation. You should do this immediately and not wait for any COVID-19 testing.
To help treat the symptoms of COVID-19, the following tips may help.
You should contact your provider right away:
Call 911 or the local emergency number if you have:
Before you go to a doctor's office or hospital emergency department (ED), call ahead and tell them that you have or think you may have COVID-19. Tell them about any underlying conditions you might have, such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease or medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and nutritional supplements. Wear a cloth face mask with at least two layers when you visit the office or ED, unless it makes it too hard to breathe. This will help protect other people you come in contact with.
Your provider will ask about your symptoms, any recent travel, and any possible exposure to COVID-19. Your provider may take swab samples from the back of your nose and throat. If needed, your provider may also take other samples, such as blood or sputum.
If your symptoms do not indicate a medical emergency, your provider may decide to monitor your symptoms while you recover at home. You will have to remain away from others within your home and not leave the house until your provider says you can stop home isolation. For more serious symptoms, you may need to go to the hospital for care.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19 testing: what you need to know. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html. Updated September 25, 2023. Accessed October 30, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19 treatments and medications. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/treatments-for-severe-illness.html. Updated February 10, 2023. Accessed February 27, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Symptoms of COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html. Updated October 26, 2022. Accessed January 23, 2023.
Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.