Doctors explain how long you can expect to experience symptoms of COVID-19
It depends on your immune system and the severity of your illness — but here's a rough breakdown of what to expect, according to doctors, if you have COVID-19.
There are thousands of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, and realistically, there are many more Indians experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms, who don't meet the threshold for testing. If you're one of them, you may be wondering how long it'll take for you to feel better. The answer isn't entirely clear — it depends on your immune system and the severity of your illness — but here's a rough breakdown of what you can expect, according to experts.
Best case scenario: no time at all
Studies have shown that while some COVID-19 patients get only very mild symptoms or none at all, some can develop severe pneumonia and other health issues. A World Health Organization (WHO) report from February 2020, found that around 80 per cent of patients with confirmed cases "have mild disease and recover." Many cases come and go without any symptoms, so no recovery is needed, says Pune-based virologist, Dr Abhay Singh. However, you could still be contagious — so, if you believe you've been exposed to the novel coronavirus, you should quarantine for at least 14 days, he says.
So, how long is COVID-19 infectious in people? Dr Singh says it’s unclear. "We do know that people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can be contagious a few days before they even show symptoms, and some people never really have much in the way of symptoms, but can definitely pass on the virus," he says. "What we don’t know is how long they remain contagious." The general rule Dr Singh and his colleagues use is that "you’re probably good" if a week has passed from when you first began feeling sick, and you’ve had three full days of feeling completely well. "That means no more cough, and no more fever for at least three days," he says. If testing is not an option, the WHO advises keeping individuals isolated for another two weeks after the symptoms are gone because they may continue to "shed" (or emit from the body) the virus.
In short, COVID-19 is a very serious disease that can be dangerous for the most vulnerable among us. If you have reason to believe you have it, isolate yourself from your family or roommates and call your doctor to get specific instructions on how to manage things moving forward.
Most common: about two weeks
If it’s a mild infection, symptoms will likely last for about seven to ten days and will be similar to those caused by the seasonal flu, says Dr Anubhav Gupta, a general physician based in Delhi. But for roughly 20 per cent of COVID-19 patients, the infection can worsen after this initial period, and in some cases lead to hospitalization, he adds. "If your case is mild, you may have very limited symptoms, and feel normal within a week or less," explained Dr Gupta. "More commonly, you may feel classic symptoms for one to two weeks or longer — sometimes with better and worse days — until you truly start to improve." Either way, you should be able to recover at home, he says.
According to Dr Gupta, mild symptoms are unlikely to last longer than three weeks. "The fatigue can linger, as can the loss of appetite, and some people routinely have a nagging cough after a viral infection that can last for weeks. So some people will have lengthy symptoms, but those aren’t really from active viral infection. They are more of a recovery syndrome," he explained.
According to a study of nearly 56,000 laboratory-confirmed cases cited in a WHO report, the most common symptom, experienced by 88 per cent of confirmed patients, is fever. The other most common symptoms according to that study are, in descending order:
• Dry cough (68 per cent)
• Fatigue (38 per cent)
• Coughing up sputum/mucus production (33 per cent)
• Shortness of breath (19 per cent)
• Joint or muscle pain (15 per cent)
• Sore throat (14 per cent)
• Headache (14 per cent)
• Chills (11 per cent)
• Nausea or vomiting (5 per cent)
• Nasal congestion (5 per cent)
• Diarrhea (3 per cent)
• Coughing up blood (1 per cent)
• Eye discharge (1 per cent)
One thing missing from this list is anosmia or loss of sense of smell. Anecdotal reports suggest that people with milder cases of the disease could have telltale symptoms, like the loss of their sense of smell and/or taste. However, the WHO has not yet added those symptoms to its official list, as the data is not yet strong enough.
Most severe: several weeks or more
It is a general rule that the sicker you are, the longer it will take to recover, says Dr Singh. "About 20 per cent of cases are severe, and these people need to be hospitalized," he says. "You can have people who have very mild symptoms that last a couple of days, and then you have other people who can really get quite sick and go to the intensive care unit and be there for a month or more," he explained.
For those who recover, it can take quite a while to feel healthy again. Dr Singh puts recovery at roughly three to six weeks for patients who require hospitalization, and "even when they are discharged, they may feel very weak, and get short of breath with even mild exertion," he explained. "For those who are battling pneumonia and potential respiratory failure, and require intensive care and intubation (machine-assisted breathing), weeks to months of rehabilitation may be needed to regain lost weight, strength, and endurance," says Dr Singh.
While there are many studies underway investigating COVID-19 — and SARS-CoV-19, the novel coronavirus that causes the illness — it is still essentially brand new to science. We aim to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may change. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, World Health Organization, and local public health departments.