A global concern
The new coronavirus has now infected close to 250,000 people worldwide. A clearer picture of the constellation of symptoms caused by the virus—the infection is now called COVID-19—is starting to emerge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confirmed illnesses of coronavirus have ranged from very mild to severe, with some even fatal.
Most of the cases—about 80 per cent—are mild, says Dr Robert Glatter, an emergency physician. But the symptoms are also very “non-specific,” adds Dr Nestor Sosa, an infectious diseases expert. That means they could easily be caused by other respiratory illnesses, like a cold or the flu.
The three most common symptoms seem to be fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Here’s more on each of those—plus other, less common symptoms.
The most common symptom of coronavirus by far seems to be a fever. A CDC report says that 77 per cent to 98 per cent of people hospitalised with the virus have an elevated temperature. And another analysis reports that the fever is typically 37.7 degrees Celsius or higher, sometimes with chills. One note: A fever may or may not be the first symptom reported. About 44 per cent of more than 1,000 patients hospitalised with coronavirus in China had a fever when they first arrived at a healthcare facility, reports a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. That number rose to almost 89 per cent after they were hospitalised.
A second common symptom is a cough, affecting between 46 per cent and 82 per cent of patients in the hospital, according to the CDC. Although cough is a fairly widespread symptom, one distinguishing feature of this one is that it’s usually dry, says Dr Sosa. The CDC believes that COVID-19 mostly spreads through respiratory droplets among people who are in close proximity to one another (within about 1.8 metres). That makes it imperative that people with symptoms cough (or sneeze) into a tissue or the crook of their arm, not their hands, advises the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).