The New York Times reports more than 775,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 48 million have had the virus. However, many others have likely had COVID but weren't tested or were asymptomatic and didn't realize they had it. While it's impossible to know if you've been infected without seeing a physician or getting tested, there are signs you've had it. COVID affects everyone differently, but according to virus and medical experts Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with, here are the symptoms to watch out for that indicate you've had COVID. (Get tested to make sure!)
1 Asymptomatic People
If you had COVID, but didn't experience symptoms, you're not alone. Dr. Suman Radhakrishna MD FACP, Director of Infectious Diseases at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center says, "1/3 of patients do not experience any symptoms of COVID, while 3/4 of asymptomatic individuals who receive a positive PCR test remain asymptomatic. This is more common in healthy individuals." However, Dr. Radharkrishna says, "Asymptomatic infected individuals can have abnormalities on CT of the chest suggestive of viral pneumonia, abnormalities in their blood tests."
2 Really Bad Headache
If you've had a terrible headache with other flu-like symptoms, that could be a sign you've had COVID. Dr. William Wang, Vice President/Chief Medical Officer with Dignity Health Glendale Memorial says, "It's one of the symptoms, one of the first symptoms of the Omicron and Delta variants. Headaches are one of the first things that happen. The probability is it's not COVID, it's only COVID if it's a headache, then followed by a sore throat and then a cough. It's not all happening at the same time. Just a headache by itself does not mean you have COVID"
3 Bad Cold
"Colds typically last only a few days," Dr. Wang explains. "A sign you may have had COVID is that the cold symptom sticks around for two weeks or longer. In addition, people have reported experiencing shortness of breath, which differentiates this from a normal cold or flu. Also many patients have experienced what felt like an anxiety or panic attack that lasted longer than usual, which could mean you've had COVID.
4 Loss of Taste and Smell
According to Robert G. Lahita MD, Ph.D. ("Dr. Bob"), Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health and author of the upcoming book Immunity Strong, "Sometimes, this is permanent and it really reveals the neurotropic extent of this virus. The virus prefers the brain and nervous system, and the loss of these senses is very much COVID-related."
5 Brain Fog
Dr. Bob says, "A lot of patients who have had COVID find it difficult to watch a movie or balance their checkbooks, for example. Their degree of concentration is impacted – sometimes for a long time after they contract the virus."
6 Overall Exhaustion
"This symptom can last for months in people who have had COVID," Dr. Bob explains. "However, it's important to get properly diagnosed to ensure this symptom isn't due to another condition."
7 Joint Pains
Dr. Bob explains, "If you have anything like osteoarthritis or lupus, you may have lots of joint pain going forward. Again, this can last for months post-COVID."
8 Muscle Aches
"These aches are common in conditions like fibromyalgia but we see a lot of them in people who have had COVID," Dr. Bob states. "They are all over the body. Once again, these aches can last for months after recovery from the virus. Even young people can experience these conditions post-COVID. If we see anyone with any one of these symptoms, we're doing full blood work and many other tests – testing for antibodies and looking at inflammatory markers, red blood cell count to ensure they're not anemic, analyzing their platelet count, etc."
9 Persistent Cough
Dr. Wang says, "Again, you would have felt a little ill and then you developed a cough that doesn't go away. The cough can last anywhere from a week to two weeks."
How to Lower Your Chances of Getting COVID
Dr. Reginald J. Jones, MD, FACS General Surgeon/Trauma Surgeon Director of Trauma Prevention Director of Disaster with Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center says, "Bottom line the symptoms of COVID depend on what health biases an individual brings to the table, i.e. pre-existing conditions, immune status, exposure level, etc. We can mitigate many of these issues by hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing.
Dr. Wang agrees. "Get vaccinated, continue wearing a mask, washing hands and social distance. That will help people continue doing their daily routines and living their normal lives."
Dr. Radharkrishna concurs. "I continue to encourage all patients and individuals to continue social distance, wear masks around other individuals, vaccination, and self-quarantine when feeling ill."
One Doctor's Experience with COVID Symptoms
Dr. Jones says, "Looking back at my experiences with SARS-COVID-19, both personal and professional, the signs and symptoms like many other diseases are a conundrum of circumstances. An asymptomatic individual can test positive and never manifest any symptoms; this is called a "carrier state". At the opposite extreme, an individual can manifest any of the classic symptoms of fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea to varying degrees. What we need is personal hyper-vigilance as the margins of the disease are ever-changing with the different variants. Last year, I was involved in the care of a family of 9 people. They presented it to the ER one week after a holiday gathering. The vaccine had just come out and only one person reported being vaccinated and no one had been previously tested for the virus.
The two elderly people ages 75 and 79 both had fevers. The 50-year-old and 39 year old both had severe shortness of breath and required intubation. One person had nausea and vomiting, and the rest had mild muscle aches. All family members tested positive. The one with nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches was discharged the same day for home quarantine. The two elderly people were admitted to the hospital and treated without intubation and then discharged in a week. The 50-year-old had a tracheostomy and suffers from long-term complications from having COVID ('COVID long haulers'). The 39-year-old succumbed to the disease within 48 hours.
The signs and symptoms of SARS-COVID-19 from my experience are still a looming question. To quote Winston Churchill, 'A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. If you have any of the classical symptoms i.e, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle ache, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, etc, then get tested. If you have had high-risk exposure but don't have any of these classical symptoms, then get tested. If you test positive and never have any symptoms after two weeks, you may be an asymptomatic carrier."
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.