How Long Do Symptoms Last? When Should You Test? A Covid Timeline. (2022)

New versions of Omicron, known as BA.4 and BA.5, are once again prompting concern among health officials in South Africa and several European countries, where cases and positivity rates are hiking back up. While the subvariant BA.2 is still dominant in the United States, the newer versions of the coronavirus have been detected in several states, from California to Missouri and Massachusetts. And signs suggest that each of these subvariants is more immune-evasive than the original version of Omicron, meaning that you can get sick even if you’ve been vaccinated or infected before.

It can be confusing to know what to expect if you get Covid-19. When do you need to test? How long will your infection last? Like previous coronavirus variants, BA.2 and newer versions can be wildly unpredictable in their timeline and range of symptoms.

To make matters even trickier, you won’t know for sure which version of the coronavirus you’re dealing with. “It’s not something that’s reported clinically,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. But regardless of which subvariant you have, you can apply the same course of action, he said. You should mark your calendar and test at the first sign of illness, track your oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter and be on the lookout for signs that your infection is becoming more serious, like difficulty breathing or chest pains.

Early evidence indicates that BA.2 does not make people more sick than the previous version of Omicron, which itself was less severe than the Delta variant. But every patient is different, Dr. Ray said, and while most have mild illness and recover in about a week, it is still possible to get really sick from Covid-19.

Here’s what you need to know at every stage of an infection.

When — and how often — to take a Covid-19 test

The new coronavirus subvariants move fast and people who do develop symptoms may start feeling sick two to three days after an exposure, said Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. Some of the early symptoms may be very similar to a cold or flu, and include a sore throat, nasal congestion, cough or fever. Some people also report a loss of taste or smell, muscle aches, headaches, gastrointestinal issues and skin rashes. “I would definitely test as soon as I had any symptoms,” Dr. Gordon said.

If you use a home test and get a negative result, you should continue taking precautions and test again 24 to 48 hours later, Dr. Gordon said. It could be that the virus simply hasn’t ramped up to levels detectable on a rapid test yet. If symptoms persist and you still test negative at home a few days later, you may want to get a lab-based P.C.R. test, which is more sensitive at detecting traces of the coronavirus.

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Even if you’re already vaccinated and boosted, your protective antibodies can wane over time, making you vulnerable to an infection. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized second boosters for older adults and those with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk for severe disease. And while a recent bout with Omicron may provide some immunity, it is possible to be reinfected with new subvariants.

Testing positive on a rapid antigen test can provide important information about when you’re contagious to others. If you’re at high risk, it’s also critical to test and consult with a doctor early in the course of illness in order to be eligible for antiviral pills or monoclonal antibody therapy, which need to be taken within five days of symptom onset.

How long it will take to recover

While early Covid-19 symptoms remain pretty similar across different variants, what has changed is the course of illness, according to Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of infectious disease at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Some patients never develop more than mild symptoms, while others see their fever or other symptoms start to improve about five to six days after they first get sick, he said. The period between days 5 and 10 is critical when you have Covid-19 because some people may experience a turn for the worse right around then.

“The main reason that people are hospitalized is shortness of breath and low oxygen in the blood,” Dr. Gulick said. If you notice either of these symptoms, especially about a week after you get sick, seek medical care immediately.

Fortunately, people infected with Omicron and its newer relatives are less likely to need hospitalization than in previous coronavirus waves, Dr. Gulick said. “If someone is hospitalized, we’re seeing that they tend to be hospitalized with milder illness and stay fewer days in the hospital,” he said. “And also the risk of progression while in the hospital is lower compared to previous variants.”

That being said, Dr. Gulick reiterated that high risk patients consult with their provider early on after testing positive, before they develop any difficulty breathing, because they may be able to take medications to prevent the progression of symptoms.

After a week, a small subset of people might take a turn for the worse despite feeling like their symptoms were clearing up. Researchers have found that this second phase of illness is somewhat unique to Covid-19, said Dr. Chaz Langelier, an expert on respiratory infections at the University of California at San Francisco. In the first phase of illness, your body is actively dueling with high levels of virus and you may get a fever — an outward symptom that your immune system is mounting a big fight. Experts theorize that those who go through a second phase of Covid-19 may be experiencing a domino effect of inflammation or a resurgence in virus levels after they stopped taking antiviral pills leading to the reapearance of fatigue, chest pain, nasal congestion or shortness of breath.

Luckily, the combination of immunity from vaccines or previous infections and milder subvariants means that most people should fully recover from their coronavirus infection in two weeks.

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When it’s safe to go out and be with other people

If you don’t have symptoms any more or have been fever-free for 24 hours, and other signs of your illness have been consistently improving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that you can leave isolation after five days. But you should keep wearing a mask around others for an additional five days.

The caveat is that this advice is based on older coronavirus variants, and some researchers worry that it may lead to people ending isolation too early. Data from the original Omicron variant suggests that as many as half of Covid-19 patients will still be potentially infectious on day five.

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Dr. Gordon and other experts recommend “testing out” of your illness to be on the safe side. “Try testing on day five, and if you’re still positive then wait and test at day seven again,” Dr. Gordon said. Rapid home tests correspond pretty well to when your viral load is high and when you’re actually contagious. If you’ve experienced a viral rebound, where you tested negative and then became positive again a few days later, it is especially important to consider restarting your isolation period and waiting before going back to work or socializing with other people again.

Once you get a negative rapid test and you meet the C.D.C. criteria of decreasing symptoms, you can consider yourself in the clear, though it may be a good idea to take it easy when returning to your normal activity levels.

FAQs

What is the infection timeline for COVID? ›

The time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is thought to be two to 14 days. Symptoms typically appeared within five days for early variants, and within four days for the Delta variant.

How long do you test positive after having COVID? ›

After a positive test result, you may continue to test positive for some time after. You may continue to test positive on antigen tests for a few weeks after your initial positive. You may continue to test positive on NAATs for up to 90 days.

What are considered mild COVID symptoms? ›

Mild COVID-19 means you have symptoms — such as cough, sore throat, and fatigue — but no shortness of breath. Most of the time, people can treat mild COVID-19 at home. There are treatments specific to COVID-19 for certain people, so contact your healthcare provider to discuss your options.

How long after infection do you display COVID symptoms? ›

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms. Possible symptoms include: Fever or chills.

How long does the Omicron last? ›

How long do omicron symptoms last? Most people who test positive with any variant of COVID-19 typically experience some symptoms for a couple weeks. People who have long COVID-19 symptoms can experience health problems for four or more weeks after first being infected, according to the CDC.

Are you still contagious after 5 days of COVID? ›

People are most contagious with COVID-19 during the first 5 days of their illness. Many people don't have any symptoms during the first 2 to 3 days of their illness. This is why COVID-19 outbreaks are so hard to contain. On average, people are contagious for 5 to 10 days.

Can you have COVID and test negative? ›

A negative result means it's likely you are not infectious. But a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19 and there's still a chance you may be infectious. You should follow advice on how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

How long will a rapid test show positive? ›

Several studies show that most people no longer test positive after five to seven days from their first positive test, but between 10% to 20% of people continue to test positive for 10 to 14 days. But why it takes longer for some people to clear the virus than others is still unknown.

How many days after testing positive will I test negative? ›

At least 5 days. If you are: Asymptomatic: Isolate for 5 days after the first positive test.

What COVID-19 feels like at first? ›

a high temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature) a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.

What order do COVID symptoms appear? ›

Based on what researchers have learned about COVID-19 thus far, the first symptoms—which generally occur within seven days after infection—can include the following, which are listed in order of their usual appearance: Fever or chills. A persistent cough. Muscle pain.

When does COVID stop being contagious? ›

Those with severe COVID-19 may remain infectious beyond 10 days and may need to extend isolation for up to 20 days. People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should isolate through at least day 20.

Can you test negative for COVID and still be contagious? ›

You can have COVID-19 and spread it to others even if you do not have symptoms. Your COVID-19 test can be negative even if you are infected. Most people do not test positive for the virus until days after exposure. You may also be exposed to the virus afteryou are tested and then get infected.

What does a COVID headache feel like? ›

Researchers have discovered that some of the prominent features of a COVID-19 headache include: Having a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation. Occurring bilaterally (across the whole head) Presenting with severe pressure that won't respond to typical pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

What are the symptoms of Omicron in fully vaccinated? ›

Symptoms of Omicron can be similar to the original COVID-19 virus and other variants, which can include a combination of the following: fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, headache, sore throat, muscle pains/aches and fatigue.

How many days of isolation if I have Omicron? ›

The time for home isolation of omicron infected patients has been decreased to seven days from testing positive if they show no signs of fever for three days in a row, instead of ten days before.

What are the symptoms of the Delta variant of COVID? ›

Delta variant symptoms are the same

Typically, vaccinated people are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms if they contract the delta variant. Their symptoms are more like those of a common cold, such as cough, fever or headache, with the addition of significant loss of smell.

Can you be contagious after 7 days of Covid? ›

If you are significantly immunosuppressed, you are more likely to be infectious for longer than 7 days and may still be able to spread the virus. Follow these measures until day 14 following your positive test result to further reduce any remaining risk of spreading the virus.

Do lateral flow test work if you have symptoms? ›

If you are in a group who may be eligible for treatment and have symptoms of COVID-19, you should test as soon as possible with a lateral flow test, even if your symptoms are mild. Every lateral flow test result should be reported.

How accurate are rapid antigen tests? ›

For rapid antigen tests, this includes a clinical sensitivity of at least 80% (for specimens collected within 7 days of symptom onset) and a clinical specificity of at least 98%.

Should I clean my nose before a Covid test? ›

IMPORTANT: Swabbing the nostrils is critical for obtaining an accurate result. If you do not swab your nose, the device will produce a false negative result. TO TIME THE TEST. soap and water for 20 seconds before starting the test.

Does rapid testing give false negatives? ›

COVID-19 antigen tests may not detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus early in an infection, meaning testing soon after you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 could lead to a false-negative result, especially if you don't have symptoms.

Will a rapid test show positive instantly? ›

A rapid COVID-19 self-test can be used at home to detect COVID-19. Rapid self-tests give you results in about 10-15 minutes. If you test positive on a rapid test, you have COVID-19. Please review the guidance for positive cases for more information.

What does faint line on Covid test mean? ›

Rapid antigen or lateral flow tests can help to identify when someone with COVID-19 is most infectious, but even a faint line should be treated as a positive result. 18 November 2022.

Can I be around people 5 days after testing positive? ›

If you test positive for COVID-19, stay home for at least 5 days and isolate from others in your home. You are likely most infectious during these first 5 days. Wear a high-quality mask if you must be around others at home and in public. Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask.

Can rapid be positive and PCR negative? ›

In such cases, the antigen test missed detecting the virus, but the PCR test caught it. In the case of a positive antigen test result that yields a negative PCR test result, however, the problem could have more to do with how the test was done.

Is it 5 days from testing positive? ›

If you test positive or symptoms develop, isolate. If you test negative and have no symptoms, end quarantine or work exclusion after Day 5. If you don't test and have no symptoms, end quarantine or work exclusion after Day 10.

What day is day one of COVID? ›

Day 1 is the day after symptoms start (or after the day of your first positive test if you don't have symptoms).

Do COVID symptoms come on fast? ›

A key difference is the incubation period for the viruses -- that is, the time it takes to develop symptoms after exposure to it. The flu always strikes quickly, typically one to three days. Coronavirus, however, can take anywhere from two to 14 days.

Does COVID come on fast or slow? ›

In some people, COVID-19 causes more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia. A person may have mild symptoms for about one week, then worsen rapidly. Let your doctor know if your symptoms quickly worsen over a short period of time.

What does a COVID cough feel like? ›

A common symptom of COVID-19 is a dry cough, which is also known as an unproductive cough (a cough that doesn't produce any phlegm or mucus). Most people with dry cough experience it as a tickle in their throat or as irritation in their lungs.

Can you have COVID without a fever? ›

Many people who are infected have more mild symptoms like a scratchy throat, stuffy or runny nose, occasional mild cough, fatigue, and no fever. Some people have no symptoms at all, but they can still spread the disease.” Fever seems to be one of the more common early markers of COVID-19, Kline noted.

Does COVID start with a sore throat? ›

Yes, one of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 is a sore throat. Other common symptoms include fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache and sudden loss of taste or smell.

Is the first COVID symptom a headache? ›

COVID-19-associated headache appears as an early symptom and as a novel headache with characteristics of headache attributed to systemic viral infection.

Where is COVID headache located? ›

Headache phenotypes identified with COVID-19 are largely migraine, tension-type headache, or cough headache located in the frontotemporal or occipital region with wavering intensity and essentially of acute onset.

When do you stop being contagious with Covid? ›

Those with severe COVID-19 may remain infectious beyond 10 days and may need to extend isolation for up to 20 days. People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should isolate through at least day 20.

What is incubation period for Omicron? ›

The incubation period of the wild-type, Wuhan strain was determined to be 6.65 days. Broken down by variants of concern, the incubation period of COVID-19 was 5.00 days for Alpha, 4.50 days for Beta, 4.41 days for Delta, and 3.42 days for Omicron.

Do Omicron symptoms start suddenly? ›

The time it takes for an infected person to develop symptoms after an exposure is shorter for the omicron variant than for previous variants — from a full week down to as little as three days or less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Can you test negative for COVID and still have it? ›

However, false negatives can occur for a number of reasons, including people being tested too soon after exposure to the virus (which may not let enough of the virus build up to a level that is detectable), differences in how well the coronavirus is able to make copies of itself in one person compared to in another ...

Can you be contagious with a negative COVID test? ›

You can have COVID-19 and spread it to others even if you do not have symptoms. Your COVID-19 test can be negative even if you are infected. Most people do not test positive for the virus until days after exposure. You may also be exposed to the virus afteryou are tested and then get infected.

Is COVID contagious before you test positive? ›

People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to other people starting two days before they develop symptoms (or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they do not have symptoms) through 10 days after they develop symptoms (or 10 days after the date of their positive test if they do not have symptoms).

What does a Covid headache feel like? ›

Researchers have discovered that some of the prominent features of a COVID-19 headache include: Having a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation. Occurring bilaterally (across the whole head) Presenting with severe pressure that won't respond to typical pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

What color is Covid phlegm? ›

Green and cloudy: viral or bacterial infection

A lot of the symptoms of viral infections – fever, cough, headache, loss of smell – overlap for COVID-19 and other viral infections like the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and the common cold. That's why COVID-19 testing and seeing a doctor is so important.

What are the symptoms of the Delta variant of Covid? ›

Delta variant symptoms are the same

Typically, vaccinated people are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms if they contract the delta variant. Their symptoms are more like those of a common cold, such as cough, fever or headache, with the addition of significant loss of smell.

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