What to Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus

A comprehensive and expert-backed guide for suspicious symptoms

In normal times, when the air does not hang heavy with a near-apocalyptic level of dread, waking up with a little tickle in the back of your throat is often resolved with a cup of tea and a cough drop. But these are not normal times — and even the most unflappable are susceptible to the concern that minor cold symptoms might mean an infection with Covid-19.

It’s not out of the question that they could. Covid-19 is thought to be spreading widely in communities nationwide, but with very limited testing capacity in most areas, it’s unclear just how much of the virus is in circulation. The good news is that many of these infections are relatively mild and even asymptomatic — so if you are infected, there’s a good chance you’ll be just fine. Here’s what to do if you think you personally have Covid-19.

What does Covid-19 feel like?

The most common early symptoms of Covid-19 infection are fever and cough. About a quarter of adult patients have a cough and/or fatigue, and some have digestive-tract symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Less common symptoms are body aches and nasal congestion — but even if you have these, Covid-19 “should be a consideration at this time,” says Anna Corey, an infectious disease doctor and assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, because “at this point, we’re seeing so much community spread.”

Lots of other infections can cause these same symptoms: There are many similarities between Covid-19 symptoms and those of the flu, other cold viruses, and even some cases of strep throat. The difference is that this particular virus is new to people’s immune systems — and that may explain why so many people who are infected with it have a more severe form of the infection that can lead to death. (Signs of severe illness include shortness of breath, confusion, chest pressure or tightness, dehydration, and bluish lips. These symptoms are big red flags — if you have any of them, call your doctor or an urgent care or emergency room immediately).

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