COVID-19 Diagnosed or Suspected
Is this your symptom?
- You have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, fever, trouble breathing or others) AND:
- diagnosis was confirmed by a positive test OR
- suspected diagnosis was made by your doctor based on symptoms OR
- you suspect COVID-19 based on symptoms consistent with COVID-19 AND the infection is widespread in the community
- Patients with a positive COVID-19 test but without any symptoms are also covered in this guide
- COVID-19 Symptoms:
- The most common symptoms are cough, sore throat, headache and fever. Some patients progress to shortness of breath and trouble breathing.
- Other common symptoms are runny nose, chills, shivering (shaking), muscle pains or body aches, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of smell or taste
- The CDC also includes the following less-common symptoms: nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Care Guide Update: June 20, 2022, Version 19.
COVID-19 Disease: Frequently Asked Questions
- Trusted Sources for Accurate Information: CDC and AAP
- To meet the high demand for COVID-19 information, when possible, find your answers online. Here are the most reliable websites:
- Always follow the most current CDC recommendations if they are different than those in this care guide.
COVID-19 - How it is Spread:
- This COVID-19 coronavirus most often causes a respiratory illness. The most common symptoms are cough, sore throat, headache and fever. Some patients progress to shortness of breath (trouble breathing).
- Other common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), runny nose, muscle pain, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of smell or taste.
- The CDC also includes the following less-common symptoms: nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Some people may have very mild symptoms. Some can have no symptoms, but still spread the disease.
Other COVID-19 Facts:
- COVID-19 is spread from person to person.
- The virus spreads when respiratory droplets are produced when a person coughs, sneezes, shouts or sings. The infected droplets can then be inhaled by a nearby person or land on the surface of their eyes.
- Most infected people also have respiratory secretions on their hands. These secretions get transferred to healthy people on doorknobs, faucet handles, etc. The virus then gets transferred to healthy people when they touch their face or rub their eyes.
- These are how most respiratory viruses spread.
- Incubation period: average 3 to 5 days (range 2 to 10 days) after coming in contact with the secretions of a person who has COVID-19. Incubation periods can vary depending on the variant.
- No Symptoms, but Infected: more than 30% of infected patients have no symptoms.
- Mild Infections: 80% of those with symptoms have a mild illness, much like normal flu or a bad cold. The symptoms usually last 2 weeks. If you have had a previous COVID infection or had the vaccine, the infections are usually mild to moderate.
- Vaccine: safe and effective vaccines are available. At this time, vaccines have been tested and are now FDA approved for ages 6 months and older.
- Breakthrough cases are COVID-19 infections that bypass vaccine protection. They are more common with new variants. Many of these infections do not cause any symptoms. Most are mild to moderate and do not require healthcare visits.
- Booster Vaccines: the CDC recommends a booster shot for those 5 and older. For Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, a booster shot is needed if 5 or more months have passed since the first ones. For Johnson and Johnson vaccine, a booster shot is needed 2 or more months after the first one. For more information, visit: COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters.
- Treatment: new anti-viral and monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are more widely available. They are mainly used for high risk patients. The earlier in the illness they are taken, the better chance they have of helping. If you are high risk and have COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor early to discuss these treatments.
- Prevention: the COVID-19 vaccine and booster are the best way to prevent serious infections.
When to Call for COVID-19 Diagnosed or Suspected
Call 911 Now
- Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath, can barely speak)
- Lips or face are bluish now
- You think you have a life-threatening emergency
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- Trouble breathing, but not severe (includes tight breathing and hard breathing)
- Breathing is much faster than normal
- Lips or face have turned bluish during coughing
- Wheezing (tight, purring sound with breathing out)
- Chest pain or pressure and can't take a deep breath
- Sore throat with serious symptoms (such as can't swallow fluids or new-onset drooling)
- Muscle pains with serious symptoms (such as can't walk or can barely walk)
- Headache with serious symptoms (such as worst headache ever, confused, weak, stiff neck)
- Dehydration suspected. No urine in over 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth and no tears.
- Weak immune system, such as HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
- You are at High-Risk due to health history. This includes lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other serious chronic disease.
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- You feel weak or very sick
- You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Nonstop coughing spells
- Earache or ear discharge
- Sinus pain (not just congestion)
- Fever lasts more than 3 days
- Fever returns after gone for more than 24 hours
- You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Diagnosed or Suspected COVID-19 with Mild Symptoms - Treatment
- COVID-19 Infection: What You Should Know about It
- You have been diagnosed as having COVID-19 by a positive test (home kit or lab) OR
- You or your doctor suspect COVID-19 because it is widespread in your community and you have developed symptoms that match.
- The most common symptoms are cough, sore throat, headache and fever. Some patients progress to shortness of breath (trouble breathing).
- Less common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), runny nose, muscle pain, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of smell or taste.
- Get a COVID-19 test if you have COVID-19 symptoms or had possible exposure. See Testing section below.
- Most infections are mild.
- Treatment of Symptoms
- The treatment is the same whether you have COVID-19, influenza or some other respiratory virus.
- The only difference for COVID-19 is you need to stay on home isolation until you recover. Reason: you want to protect other people from getting it. The elderly and people with serious health problems can die from COVID-19.
- Treat the symptoms that are bothering you the most. See other Care Guides (such as Sore Throat or Cough) for details of treatment, if needed.
- New antiviral treatments have been developed for patients who are high risk for complications. They work best when given early. Check with your doctor for the most current information.
- Antibiotics are not helpful for viral infections.
- Steroids should only be used for people with breathing problems that need hospitalization. Steroids can suppress the immune system.
- You don't need to call or see your doctor unless you are at high risk for complications, develop trouble breathing or become worse in any other way.
- Fever Treatment
- For fever above 102° F (39° C) you may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the patient is uncomfortable.
- For fevers between 100° to 102° F (37.8° to 39 ° C), fever medicines are not needed. Reason: fevers turn on your body's immune system. Fever helps fight the infection.
- Exception: if the patient also has pain, treat it.
- Fluids: offer cool fluids in unlimited amounts. Reason: to prevent dehydration. Staying well-hydrated also helps the body sweat and give off heat.
- Cough Medicines:
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) Cough Syrups: some people find that cough syrups help decrease coughing. Dextromethorphan is the most common cough suppressant in OTC cough syrups. Often the letters "DM" appear in the name.
- OTC Cough Drops: cough drops can help a lot. They work best for mild coughs. They soothe the tickling feeling in the back of the throat. Cough drops are easy to carry with you.
- Home Remedy - Hard Candy: hard candy works just as well as OTC cough drops. People who have diabetes should use sugar-free candy.
- Home Remedy - Honey: honey has been shown to help decrease coughing at night. The adult dose is 2 teaspoons (10 mL) at bedtime.
- Sore Throat Pain Relief
- Sip warm chicken broth or apple juice.
- Suck on hard candy or a throat lozenge.
- Gargle with warm salt water four times a day. Make this using ½ teaspoon of salt in 8 oz. (240 mL) of warm water.
- Avoid smoking.
- Pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve): use if pain interferes with swallowing. Not needed for mild pain.
- Muscle Pains - Treatment:
- COVID-19 can normally cause muscle pains and body aches.
- Massage: gently massage any sore muscles.
- Stretching: gently stretch any sore muscles.
- Apply Heat: use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, 3 times daily.
- Warm bath: for widespread muscle pains, consider a warm bath for 20 minutes 2 times a day. Gently exercise the sore muscles under water.
- Pain medicine: for widespread body aches, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) every 4 hours OR ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil) every 6 hours as needed. Not needed for mild aches.
- Headache - Treatment:
- COVID-19 can cause a headache.
- Pain medicine: take acetaminophen OR ibuprofen, as needed.
- Cold pack: apply a cold wet washcloth or cold pack to the forehead for 20 minutes.
- Massage: stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
- Loss of Smell or Taste:
- Losing the sense of smell or taste can be an early symptom of COVID-19.
- In most patients, these senses return within days to weeks.
- In some patients, the return can take several months.
- Fluids - Stay well Hydrated
- Drink lots of fluids. Water is best.
- Goal: keep the patient well hydrated.
- It loosens up any phlegm in the lungs. Then it's easier to cough up.
- It also helps the body sweat and give off heat.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Shortness of breath occurs
- Trouble breathing occurs
- Your symptoms get worse
COVID-19 Home Isolation Questions
- Home Isolation is Needed for those Who are Sick:
- Isolation means separating sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick (CDC). That means stay at home.
- The patient with a positive lab test needs to stay at home, but does not need to be confined to a single room. Preventing spread of respiratory infections within a home is nearly impossible. The sick person should wear a mask when around others. The sick person should try to avoid very close contact with other family members. That includes hugging, kissing, sitting next to or sleeping in the same bed. None of this is realistic for young children.
- Not Vaccinated or Partially Vaccinated family members should also stay at home on quarantine. Living with a COVID-19 positive patient implies close contact has occurred and continues to occur.
- Fully Vaccinated family members with no symptoms do not need to be on home quarantine unless they develop a positive lab test. They do need to wear a well-fitting mask outside the home.
- All people with close contact should be tested 3 to 5 days after close contact with an infected person. You should also wear a well-fitting mask in public indoor settings for 10 days.
- Essential workers who have COVID-19 exposure, but do not have any symptoms, should talk to your employer.
- Do Not allow any visitors (such as friends).
- Do Not go to school or work.
- Do Not go to stores, restaurants, places of worship or other public places.
- Avoid public transportation or ride sharing.
- How to Protect Others - When You Are Sick:
- Stay home from school or work if you are sick. Your doctor or local health department will tell you when it is safe to return.
- Cough and sneeze into your shirt sleeve or inner elbow. Don't cough into your hand or the air.
- If available, sneeze into a tissue and throw it into a trash can.
- Wash hands often with soap and water. After coughing or sneezing are important times.
- Don't share glasses, plates or eating utensils.
- Wear a well-fitting face mask when around others.
- Always wear a face mask if you have to leave your home (such as going to a medical facility). Always call first to get approval and careful directions.
- Carefully avoid any contact with the elderly and people with weak immune systems or other chronic health problems.
- Stopping Home Isolation - Must Meet All 3 Requirements (CDC):
- Fever gone for at least 24 hours after stopping fever-reducing medicines AND
- Cough and other symptoms are gone or almost gone AND
- Symptoms started more than 5 days ago.
- Patients with no symptoms (and no symptoms developed): stay at home until 5 days have passed since the date the sample was collected for their positive COVID-19 test.
- Summary: must isolate at home for at least 5 days. Then wear a well-fitting mask around others for another 5 days.
- If you're unsure it is safe for you to leave isolation, check the CDC website or call your doctor.
- COVID-19 Testing Questions
- If COVID-19 is suspected, get a test to know for sure. You can’t tell by symptoms. Reason: most respiratory viruses cause similar symptoms.
- It is easiest to test at home using a COVID-19 test kit (rapid antigen). Free kits can be ordered to have on hand using this link: www.cdc.gov/tests. These kits are also available at most pharmacies. Testing is offered at many sites without a doctor's order. Many doctor’s offices, retail clinics, and urgent care centers offer testing. Community drive-through sites or pharmacies may also be testing site options.
- Your doctor is often the best resource for up-to-date information on testing. If you have testing questions, call them during office hours.
- Public health department websites also can help you find the closest test site.
- Here are some facts that may answer some of your questions:
- Diagnostic tests: these are performed on nasal or mouth secretions. The tests can tell us if you have a COVID-19 infection now. Timing is important on when to do this test:
- With Symptoms. Get a test within 1 to 2 days of onset of symptoms. If you test negative and continue to have cold-like symptoms, test again on day 3.
- Without Symptoms and a COVID-19 close contact. Get a test on day 3 to 5 after exposure.
- Repeat diagnostic tests: after a positive test, repeat tests are not recommended. Positive tests are reliable. Even after it is safe to stop isolation (usually 5 days), tests may stay positive. A positive test does not mean the patient can spread the infection once the required isolation period is completed. After a negative home test, if you have symptoms, re-test at home in 1 to 2 days. If the test is again negative and you live with a high-risk person, talk with your doctor about getting a PCR test.
- Antibody Tests: these are performed on blood. They are rarely needed and currently not very helpful. They can sometimes tell us if you have antibodies from a previous infection. They are not done until at least 2 to 3 weeks have passed from the start of the infection. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about this test.
- COVID-19 Vaccine - Get Your COVID-19 Shot and a Booster Shot:
- Vaccines have saved more lives than any other public health action. They are the most powerful weapon we have against deadly infectious diseases. Follow the science.
- Safe and effective vaccines are now available for people age 6 months and older. The CDC suggests everyone age 5 years and older should also get a COVID-19 booster, when eligible. Elderly and immune suppressed people are still at the highest risk. Young children can get seriously ill, so vaccination is encouraged in these groups. Here is a link to the CDC booster tool: CDC booster shots.
- Get your COVID-19 vaccine and booster when recommended. It could save your life and protect your family.
- Vaccine Sites: find a nearby vaccine site at vaccines.gov or call your doctor’s office.
- COVID-19 - How to Protect Yourself and Family from Catching It - The Basics:
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster when recommended. It is your best protection against this serious infection.
- Avoid close contact with people outside your family unit. Avoid closed spaces (indoors) when possible and all crowds (even outdoors).
- Wear a face mask when in public indoor settings. Also, observe social (safe) distancing.
- Wash hands often with soap and water (very important). Always do this before you eat.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water is not available. Remember: soap and water work better.
- Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are clean. Germs on the hands can get into your body this way.
- Don't share glasses, plates or eating utensils.
- No longer shake hands. Greet others with a smile and a nod.
- If you need to be seen for an urgent medical problem, do not hesitate to go in. ERs and urgent care sites are safe places. They are well-equipped to protect you against the virus. For non-urgent symptoms, talk to your doctor's office first. Medical offices are also safe places.
- Social (Safe) Distancing and COVID-19 Prevention:
- Avoid any contact with people known to have COVID-19 infection. Avoid talking to or sitting close to them.
- Social Distancing: try to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from anyone who is sick, especially if they are coughing. Also called physical distancing. Avoid crowds, because you can’t tell who might be sick.
- If COVID-19 becomes widespread in your community, try to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from everyone outside your family unit.
- Stay at Home Orders: follow any stay at home (stay in place) orders in your community, if they need to be re-instituted. Leave your home only for essential needs such as buying food or seeking medical care.
- After Stay at Home Orders are Lifted: continue social distancing. Also wear a mask when entering any public building or crowded outdoor area. Your state public health department will decide when they are no longer needed.
- Face Masks and COVID-19 Prevention:
- Overview: well-fitting face masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Reason: people with COVID-19 can have no symptoms, but still spread the virus. Masks also will reduce the spread of flu.
- Sick patients: should always wear a well-fitting face mask, if you are around other people or need to leave the home. Example: for medical visits. Exception: patients with trouble breathing in a mask (CDC). Consider a loose face covering, such as a bandana.
- Well people: although mask mandates have been lifted in most places, you should still consider wearing a mask if:
- You are in indoor public spaces (such as a church or a grocery store).
- You are in a crowded outdoor setting (e.g., concert, music festival, rally).
- You are traveling on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transit.
- You are in a transportation hub such as an airport or train station.
- You must be around someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Age Limits: face coverings are not recommended for children less than 2 years (CDC).
- Keep Your Body Strong:
- Get your body ready to fight the COVID-19 virus.
- Get enough sleep (very important).
- Keep your heart strong. Walk or exercise every day. Take the stairs. Caution: avoid physical exhaustion.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Eat healthy meals. Avoid overeating to deal with fears.
- Avoid the over-use of anti-fever medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Fever fights infections and ramps up your immune system.
- Keep Your Mind Positive
- Live in the present, not the future. The future is where your needless worries live.
- Stay positive. Use a mantra to reduce your fears, such as "I am strong."
- Get outdoors. Take daily walks. Go to a park if you live near one. Being in nature is good for your immune system.
- Show love. As long as they are well, hug your children and partner frequently. Speak to them in a kind and loving voice. Love strengthens your immune system.
- Stay in touch. Use regular phone calls and video chats to stay in touch with those you love.
- Breastfeeding and COVID-19:
- Breastfeeding experts recommend you continue to breastfeed even if you are sick with COVID-19. Research has shown that the virus is not passed through breastmilk.
- Wash your hands before feeding your baby.
- The CDC recommends wearing a well-fitting face mask. Be careful to avoid coughing on your baby.
- Breastmilk gives beneficial antibodies your body is making against this illness to your baby. This should provide some protection against this illness for your baby, like it does for influenza and most other viral illnesses.
- Breastfeeding mothers should also get the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster (CDC). Your protective antibodies from the vaccine will be passed to your baby in your breastmilk.
- Call your doctor if breastfeeding isn't going well OR your baby becomes sick.
And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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