Coronavirus Symptoms and Complications

Was this helpful?
(2893)
Close up of woman's hand holding thermometer

Editor's note: Updated May 5, 2020.

When coronaviruses infect people, they cause respiratory illnesses. Some strains cause the common cold, while other strains can cause very severe respiratory disease or syndrome (SARS). COVID-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019, involves a strain that is new in humans. It is a betacoronavirus like MERS (2012 outbreak) and SARS (2003 outbreak). Scientists have named the newly discovered virus SARS-CoV-2. On March 11, 2020, the World Heath Organization announced that COVID-19 is a pandemic due to its rapid spread across the globe and its severity.

The COVID-19 Symptom Comparison Chart highlights some differences between COVID-19, flu and the common cold. To help protect yourself and your family, know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, how the infection progresses, and who is most at risk of developing coronavirus complications.

Coronavirus Symptoms

Coronavirus symptoms are very similar to influenza (flu). They include:

  • Cough, which may produce phlegm (sputum)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms may appear within 2 to 14 days of becoming infected; the median is 5 days. COVID-19 symptoms are usually mild—fever, dry cough, some body aches, maybe shortness of breath—and begin gradually. In fact, experts believe about 25% of people with the infection never develop symptoms or feel sick, but they are still contagious. This makes it very different from MERS and SARS, which are usually severe and often deadly. It also makes it different from the flu, which usually starts very suddenly.

Unexpected symptoms of COVID-19 include loss of sense of smell (anosmia), even in the absence of any other symptoms.

Mild COVID-19 symptoms last a few days to a week, but it can take a couple of weeks for symptoms to subside in some cases. Some people experience more uncomfortable symptoms, including fever above 100.4 (degrees Fahrenheit), chills, cough, body aches, and fatigue. Anyone with shortness of breath or chest pain should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Unlike the flu, COVID-19 usually causes mild disease in children. In fact, the disease tends to be more like the common cold in children, so far. At this time, young children do not seem to be a high-risk group unless they have an underlying condition, such as asthma. However, there have been cases of serious disease and some children have died of COVID-19.

What to Do If You Have Flu-like Symptoms

Anyone with symptoms of cough, fever, and shortness of breath should seek prompt medical care.* Call ahead to your doctor or urgent care clinic first. They will ask you questions and give you special instructions to follow. In the United States, it is much more likely your symptoms are from the flu virus than COVID-19. (A rapid flu diagnosis within the first 48 hours allows for treatment with antivirals that can shorten the illness.) If you or your child has mild cold symptoms, do not call your doctor. Stay home until you feel better to avoid spreading the cold to others. Call your pediatrician or an urgent care clinic if your infant has a fever or difficulty breathing.

*If you know you could have been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor, urgent care clinic, or state health department. Do not go directly to a doctor's office, urgent care, or hospital. Even though primary care doctors do not test for the coronavirus, they determine if you are a good candidate for testing.

For most people, coronavirus treatment is much the same as treating the flu. It focuses on resting and treating the symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Unlike the influenza virus, there is no antiviral medicine currently available to shorten the duration of symptoms. Antibiotics aren’t effective for either the flu or COVID-19, as they are viruses and antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Scientists and drug makers around the world are studying potential COVID-19 treatments in clinical trials.  

Potential Coronavirus Complications

Some people develop a severe case of COVID-19. Older people and anyone with chronic medical conditions, such as heart problems or diabetes, have the highest risk of severe disease. They may develop difficulty breathing, pain with breathing, and other serious respiratory symptoms. It can take several weeks or longer to recover.

According to WHO, about 80% of people recover from COVID-19 without special treatment. So, most people have a very favorable coronavirus prognosis. About 15 to 20% of cases have become quite severe. Those who develop a serious illness with COVID-19 require hospitalization to prevent and treat complications. Possible complications include:

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

There is also a risk of death when the illness is severe, often from a secondary bacterial infection and other causes. So far, coronavirus has been fatal in about 7% of people with COVID-19 illness worldwide, based the number of confirmed cases and deaths.

Contact your health department for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 cases in your state and county. For general COVID-19 information, visit the CDC or WHO websites.

Was this helpful?
(2893)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 28
  1. 2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm
     
  2. About Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for
    Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
  3. Coronavirus. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
     
  4. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 38.
    World Health Organization.  https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200227-sitrep-38-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=9f98940c_2
     
  5. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. Centers for
    Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html
     
  6. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html#risk-assessment
     
  7. Coronavirus 2019 vs. the Flu. Johns-Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-disease-2019-vs-the-flu
     
  8. Flu Symptoms & Diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control
    and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/index.html
     
  9. Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus
    Disease-2019 (COVID-19) and Children. Centers for Disease Control and
    Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/children-faq.html
     
  10. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Centers for Disease
    Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/index.html
     
  11. People at High Risk of Flu Complications. Centers for
    Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/index.htm
     
  12. Q&A on Coronaviruses (COVID-19). World Health Organization.
    https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
     
  13. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Centers for
    Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sars/
     
  14. What to Do If You Are Sick With Coronavirus Disease 2019
    (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html
     
  15. Dong E, Du H, Gardner L. An interactive web-based dashboard
    to track COVID-19 in real time. Published: February 19, 2020. DOI:
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30120-1. See also https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
     
  16. Guan W, Ni Z, Hu Y et. al. Clinical Characteristics of
    Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med. 2020 Feb 28. doi:
    10.1056/NEJMoa2002032. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32109013
  17. Worldometer. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/
  18. Testing in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing-in-us.html 





























































Explore Coronavirus
Recommended Reading
Next Up
  • The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a reason to ignore your aortic stenosis symptoms. Learn the risks of untreated aortic stenosis, and stay involved in your healthcare.
  • Doctors around the world are discovering the effects of COVID-19 on the lungs, kidneys, heart and brain, including long-term complications.
  • Get tips for preventing coronavirus and other contagious diseases and staying healthy at the workplace, including social distancing, disinfecting your workspace, personal protective equipment, and more.
  • Does the COVID-19 pandemic make you want to put off your aortic valve replacement? Find out why you shouldn’t wait for this procedure.
  • Although COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a novel coronavirus that causes a viral respiratory illness, it is not the same as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or SARS-CoV, first reported in February 2003.
  • Because COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a new virus, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding it. What is known is this coronavirus is more dangerous than the flu because of a number of factors, including severity, lack of a vaccine, and mortality rate.
  • To kill or disinfect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on your hands, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
  • COVID toes are red lesions found on the soles of the feet or across the tops of toes. Although some patients are experiencing this symptom, it’s unknown if they are merely a skin reaction to the coronavirus or the result of discoloration in the toes due to micro blood clots in the blood vessels of the toes.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos