17 Subtle Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

There's a good chance you've had COVID-19 and never even knew it.

Published May 20, 2020 by Jc Drobac

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.


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 17 subtle signs you've already had coronavirus.


1. Runny Nose, Sore Throat, and Congestion

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 it off.

 

2. Reduced or Loss of Sense of Taste and Smell

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 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", Dr. Atkinson explains.


3. Reduced Appetite

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."


4. Breathlessness

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 most common is the dry, continuous cough often reported, if you're feeling breathless—more so than usual—and if it happens when you're at rest too, then it may be cause for concern. If it's extreme, you should (or should have) sought medical advice straight away.


5. Tiredness and Fatigue

When your body is fighting any kind of infection, it uses 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 though, as 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."


6. "COVID Toes"

Dermatologists have observed purple lesions on the feet and hands of some patients with COVID-19 infection, explains Caroline Nelson, MD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist. These lesions are most often found in otherwise asymptomatic children and young adults, and may be itchy or painful.


While the association is still under investigation, this finding has been dubbed "COVID toes." Importantly, severe COVID-19 infection may also increase the tendency of the blood to clot, depriving the skin of blood flow and leading to purple skin lesions. Subtle differences in appearance provide doctors with clues to differentiate causes of purple skin lesions associated with COVID-19 infection.


"Swollen toes and feet might also be related to venous thrombosis and poor return of the blood to the heart rather than poor blood flow to the toes," says interventional radiologist Hamid MoHamid Mojibian, MD, of Yale Medicine—which is why you should let your doctor know if you experience this unusual symptom.


7. Pink Eye

If you have recently suffered from conjunctivitis (aka 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.


8. Diarrhea or Nausea

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.


9. Fever Spike

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 fever—making it by far the most common symptom.


10. Muscle Pain

Perhaps you wrote off those body aches, soreness, and pain due to overexertion. Or maybe you thought you had the flu. However, according the CDC, muscle pain is a symptom of coronavirus.


11. COVID Rashes

"The skin is often a window into a person's health and may show signs of COVID-19 infection," explains Dr. Nelson. Rashes may present as small blisters, morbilliform ("measles-like") exanthems (often symmetric pink-to-red bumps that can merge together), and hives (itchy red welts on the skin). Purple skin lesions reported in patients with COVID-19 range from itchy to painful bumps on the hands and feet (see "COVID toes" above) to angulated areas of skin injury from lack of blood flow.


"It is important to not 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." Dr. Nelson says.


12. Disorientation and Confusion

While it appears to be an extremely rare symptoms, some COVID-19 victims suffer from disorientation and confusion. One study published in JAMA found that over a third of hospitalized patients in Wuhan, China showed neurological manifestations of the disease—including loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, and seizures.


13. Dry Cough

A dry cough is one of the defining symptoms of COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). What is the difference between a wet and a dry cough? As the name implies, a wet cough will likely produce mucus or phlegm, while a dry cough is, well, dry.


14. The Chills or Repeated Shaking

The CDC recently made six new additions to their official list of COVID-19 symptoms. Among them was not only "chills" but also "repeated shaking with chills." The symptom generally goes hand-in-hand with a fever.


15. You Were Sick Early in the Year

If you were sick in January or February and brushed it off as the flu or a cold, it could have actually been COVID-19. While the first known case of coronavirus in the United States was reported in early January, community spread didn't appear to be an issue—or so we thought. In fact, it wasn't until late February that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in a patient in California who had no known contact with anyone who had been diagnosed with the virus and no travel history to an outbreak area.


However, recently it was confirmed that there were two coronavirus-related deaths as early as February in California. Since the COVID outbreak took place during peak cold and flu season, it's quite possible that you were battling coronavirus and didn't know it.


16. You Spent Time in a Hotspot Early in the Year

If you spent some time in any of the early coronavirus hotspots—specifically parts of California, Washington, or New York City—earlier in the year and felt under the weather, it could have been COVID-19. Experts believe that the virus was spreading in specific geographic regions long before we realized it. For example, two preliminary studies conducted in California and released in April found that between 2.5% and 4.2% in Santa Clara County and at up to 5.6% in Los Angeles had already been exposed to the virus.


17. If You Were Around Others Who Tested Positive

If you were around other people who tested positive for COVID-19, there is a good change you had it, too. According to research, an overwhelming amount of people are asymptomatic carriers. In most of the study groups, they were living in the same area as others who tested positive. So, if someone in your house was sick, but you never showed symptoms, there is a good chance you had it, too.


There's only one way to know if you've already had Coronavirus...

There's only one way to know if you've already had Coronavirus. Dr. Atkinson points out that the only way to know "for sure" if you had COVID-19 is by getting an antibody test, a test that confirms whether or not someone had been infected with the virus in the past. According to the CDC, the tests are becoming available through healthcare providers. (Though note that NO test is 100% accurate, including these: there are false-negative and false-positive results.) You can call your primary care provider to request a Coronavirus antibody test if you'd like to be tested (or think you currently have COVID-19).


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