COVID-19 FAQs: Symptoms and Exposure
Get the facts about symptoms and exposure to the novel coronavirus and how it affects people with arthritis.
News, scientific understanding and guidelines about COVID-19 are continually evolving. As such, please note that some information on this page may have changed since its original publication date.
Question: Are symptoms of the Delta and Omicron variants different than other COVID-19 variants?
A: Loss of taste or smell and cough seem to be less common in both variants. Common symptoms of Delta, which has been around for longer, are generally headache, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, fever and body aches. Omicron appears to cause milder symptoms, but this could be due to vaccination status or partial immunity from another variant. So far, the prevailing symptoms for Omicron are fatigue, body aches and headache. Newer signs of Omicron appear to be night sweats, "scratchy" (not very sore) throat, dry cough and mild muscle aches.
Question: If I’ve already been infected with the COVID-19 virus and recovered, can I get re-infected?
A: Someone who has been infected with a virus will have antibodies to that virus. Sometimes those antibodies provide an ongoing immunity so that re-infection does not occur. Sometimes that immunity lasts only for a period of time before re-infection can occur.
Two recent studies show that COVID immunity following infection may last up to a year, sometimes longer. However, these studies did not account for immunocompromised patients or those on immunosuppressive medications, where immune response may be blunted. Additionally, new variants, such as the Omicron variant, are sounding the alarm for concerns about reinfection. The body’s immune system may not as readily recognize the mutation of the virus, increasing the risk of being infected twice. Likewise, preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron is three times as likely to cause reinfection than past variants.
According to the CDC, some reinfections are expected, but they are actively studying reinfection to determine how common they are. As such, the CDC recommends that even those who have recovered from COVID-19, still get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.
Question: I’ve been exposed to the coronavirus. What should I do?
A: The CDC has updated its guidelines for those who have been exposed to the virus, shortening the minimum time needed to quarantine from 14 days to 7 days. The new guidance states that people who have had no symptoms for 7 days and who have who have tested negative for COVID-19 may come out of quarantine. Without a test and no symptoms, the CDC recommends that people can come out of quarantine after 10 days, though 14 days is still the optimal time to isolate.
When you get tested is important. If you get a COVID-19 test too early after exposure, you may get a false negative result. These new guidelines suggest that testing may be done as early as day 5. However, many experts suggest waiting at least 10 days post exposure, or getting tested between 5 and 7 days and retested at day 14 to ensure an accurate result.
As always, if you’ve been exposed to the virus, be vigilant social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing, especially if you share a household with someone. See below for more tips on what to do to protect yourself and others in case of exposure. (See: Someone in my household has tested positive for COVID-19.)
Question: What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
A: COVID-19 symptoms tend to show up from two to 14 days after infection. Most people – about 80% or more – have mild symptoms. The definition of a “mild” infection can vary widely from person to person, but typically, it involves a fever, aches and pains and respiratory symptoms, such as a dry cough. Most people with mild symptoms recover without needing any medical attention, though some mild cases can progress into moderate ones that require IV fluids for dehydration.
About 20% of people will develop severe infections, including secondary infection like pneumonia, that require hospitalization. An even smaller percentage, about 5% require end up in the ICU and/or on a ventilator.
It’s also important to remember that some people who get infected have asymptomatic infections (no symptoms) but they can still spread the virus to others.
Regardless of your type of infection, doctors warn patients to tell their health care provider if they are experiencing shortness of breath. This symptom can be a precursor to more serious complications.
Knowing that the disease can show up in many ways helps you know when to contact your doctor. If you are feeling sick, be sure to tell your doctor about all symptoms. If your symptoms are mild and manageable, you will probably be told to isolate yourself at home, stay hydrated and take care of yourself. If your symptoms become severe, your doctor may advise urgent care.
Click here for the latest list of symptoms provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Question: Someone in my household has tested positive for COVID-19. How can I protect myself from getting sick?
A: If you or someone in your home contracts COVID-19, there are several steps that you can take to keep you and your loved ones as protected as possible. The CDC recommends:
- Wearing a mask indoors and in shared spaces or rooms, especially if you cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance.
- Always stay at least 6 feet apart (or about 2 arms lengths apart).
- The more distance the better – evidence shows that under certain conditions, infections can occur even when people are more than 6 feet away. These transmissions mostly occur within enclosed spaces that had poor ventilation. Consider opening windows and doors for better ventilation.
- Clean and disinfect shared surfaces.
- Avoid sharing personal household items (dishes, cups, towels, etc.)
- If possible, separate the person who is sick from other people in your home and use a separate bathroom.
- Be sure that the person who is sick does not prepare, serve, or assist in preparing or serving, food to others, and covers his/her mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Have the person who is sick use a separate lined trash can to dispose of tissues.
- Monitor you and your loved one’s health daily and look out for signs of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell.
- And lastly, wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
For more guidance on what to do if you or a family member is sick, check out these CDC guidelines.
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