How Mild COVID-19 Symptoms Can Quickly Turn Serious

Going from mild to severe

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptomsTrusted Source can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

These symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • chills
  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • loss of taste or smell
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Right now, experts say there’s no way of predicting if a person’s symptoms will progress from mild to severe, although there are risk factors that could make this more likely.

“This virus and the infection it causes seems to be very unpredictable. We know about common symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — but we are seeing more and more other atypical presentations. In addition, we are seeing the escalation of symptoms from mild to severe disease,” Hawkinson said.

“There are common risk factors such as age, diabetes, hypertension, lung disease, and immunosuppression, but unfortunately, this disease process and severe illness can affect anyone, and we have seen that happen,” he added.

Treating mild symptoms

While there isn’t a treatment that can stop symptoms from progressing from mild to severe, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, says there are things people with mild symptoms can do at home to feel better.

“I would think good hydration is the single most important thing to help you feel somewhat better. If you have a fever, taking a medication to reduce your fever will make you feel better,” he told Healthline.

“Whenever anyone has influenza or any respiratory infection, we ask them to stay away from alcoholic beverages. Be careful with beverages with caffeine such as coffee or tea because they tend to be dehydrating,” Schaffner added. “What you want to do is drink a lot of water. If you’re sick, I would suggest if you’re not already 6 feet away from everybody, please do that right away and be meticulous not to give the virus an opportunity to spread.”

Quarantining properly

Blumberg argues that part of the reason the virus has spread so rapidly around the world is that those with mild symptoms haven’t isolated appropriately.

He says this is made more difficult because COVID-19 is different from other infectious diseases such as SARS or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

“One of the reasons that those have not gone out of control like COVID-19 is those patients are very sick, so they’re less likely to be out and about in public. They’re more likely to be in the hospital and isolated. They’re also more likely to die,” Blumberg said.

“With COVID-19, if people are feeling well — even if they’re infected and not feeling severely ill — they go out and about and interact with others. That’s exactly why we’ve had such an explosive outbreak of this worldwide,” he noted.

Blumberg advises that caution is needed particularly in the early days of symptom onset when the virus is at its most infectious.

“It appears to be at the highest concentration in the respiratory tract around day 5 after symptom onset and then it gradually decreases after that,” he explained. “People during that time, of course, are symptomatic with coughing and sneezing, so they’re able to disperse the virus better.”

Monitoring the symptoms

For people quarantining at home, the CDC advisesTrusted Source that medical attention should be sought immediately if a person experiences symptoms, such as trouble breathing, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and bluish lips or face.

Doctors say it’s important to check in regularly with people with COVID-19 who are in isolation. They could have a sudden escalation in symptoms without anyone knowing.

“We need to be connected with others. Anything could happen to them. They may develop weakness so fast they can’t even reach for the phone. We need to make sure people are connected and looking after each other,” Blumberg said.

“We want to make sure people who are sick, who aren’t getting better, who have a worsening illness, and who have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing seek medical attention immediately and get the care they need,” he said.

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