Determining whether you have COVID-19 is much more complicated because there are so many different symptoms, many of which are similar to those of the flu. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are high fever, sometimes with chills, a dry cough and fatigue.
The one sign that distinguishes the two infections is that many COVID-19 victims suddenly lose their sense of smell — not because they have a stuffy nose but because they don’t register even strong odours like onions or coffee. Not all virus victims get anosmia, the formal name for loss of smell, but a vast majority of those affected by it do.
Less common symptoms include a sore throat, congestion, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain and feeling somewhat out of breath when exerting yourself. Some victims have red or itchy eyes, and some get redness or blisters on their fingers or toes — so-called COVID toes, which resemble chilblains.
More dangerous symptoms — which mean you should get immediate medical attention — include serious breathing difficulty; pain or pressure in the chest; blue lips or blue face; confusion or incoherent answers to simple questions; and collapsing or losing consciousness.
Adding to the disease’s fearsome nature is that it can cause blood clots that lead to heart damage, brain damage and lung damage. And even some cases that appear mild or asymptomatic create signs of what doctors believe may be long-lasting heart damage.
Another unusual aspect of COVID is that people sometimes develop pneumonia without realizing how sick they are. Doctors are unsure why; one theory is that the air sacs in the lungs are damaged in a way that affects the dissipation of carbon dioxide, which creates that “desperate for air” feeling.
Many doctors recommend buying a pulse oximeter, a fingertip device that measures oxygen levels in the blood. Multiple readings below 92% should trigger a call to a doctor. The earlier pneumonia is caught, the better the outcome.
Expect Potential Difficulties with Testing
COVID-19 symptoms can take as many as 14 days after the exposure to appear, but in most cases the symptoms start to appear within five to seven days after exposure. However, similar to diseases like measles, you can start spreading the virus several days before you begin to feel sick. So if you think you might have been exposed, it is very important to warn others and isolate yourself from them as soon as you can, especially if they are older or medically fragile.
It is a common practice of general medicine that when one disease is sweeping through an area and a patient has its symptoms, it is usually safe to assume that’s what the patient has and begin treating it, rather than waiting for test results. So unless both the flu and the coronavirus begin circulating heavily at the same time in your city or area, do not be surprised if your doctor does not recommend a test.
And getting tested for the coronavirus can be tricky, especially with so many test delays. The PCR type is more
accurate than 15-minute “rapid antigen tests,” but it can take hours or even days to return results, depending on whether it has to be sent away to a central lab or not.
One positive test probably means you are infected, but one negative test should not be trusted; too many things can go wrong. Two negative PCR tests taken at least 24 hours apart are a better indication of whether you are infection-free. If your insurance company pays for only one test, you might consider paying for the second one yourself for the peace of mind.