BA.2.12.1 is now the dominant COVID-19 subvariant in the US, but BA.4 and BA.5 are fast creeping up—and reinfection is unfortunately highly likely. "It's expected that there's probably not much cross-protection between them," says infectious disease physician Amesh Adalja, MD. "That's what you expect with this viral family. The virus is going to be able to continue to evolve to reinfect us at will." Here are the order COVID symptoms usually appear in, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Many people report fever and chills as their first sign of viral sickness. "I think if someone has a fever, regardless of how long it's lasting, unless they can clearly attribute it to something else, that's a very reasonable symptom to seek an evaluation for," says Dr. David Aronoff, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
A persistent cough is one of the first signs of COVID-19. "If the cough is accompanied by a fever, fatigue and body aches, you may want to consider testing for COVID-19," says Loras Even, DO, UnityPoint Health. "We're especially concerned when a cough worsens, is associated with a fever or causes breathing problems. Patients experiencing these symptoms should come in for an evaluation."
Headache and Fatigue
Research shows headache and fatigue are some of the earliest signs of COVID-19. "Our data shows that the most commonly experienced early symptoms are actually headache (82%) and fatigue (72%) – and this is the case for all age groups," according to health company ZOE, which runs a COVID-19 symptom tracking app. "Only 9% of COVID-positive adults aged 18 – 65 didn't experience headache or fatigue. Of course, headache and fatigue commonly occur in other conditions which is why they don't trigger a test on their own."
Loss of Smell and Taste
Although less common with the Omicron subvariants, a loss of taste and smell is a common early sign of COVID-19 infection. "There's a risk of temporary and, less commonly, permanent loss of smell with any viral infection," says Raj Sindwani, MD. "Things get swollen and the odors just are not getting to the smell receptors that live high in the nose. It happens with the common cold and it frequently happens early in COVID-19 cases as well."
Vomiting and Stomach Issues
Gastrointestinal issues are one of the most commonly reported early symptoms of COVID-19, experts say. "Early on, the CDC list of COVID-19 symptoms did not include gastrointestinal symptoms," says Jordan Shapiro, MD, assistant professor of medicine – gastroenterology at Baylor. "It became clear after the first few months that there is a subset of COVID-19 patients with non-respiratory symptoms. We now know that subset is about one-third of COVID-19 patients. Some people don't immediately realize that their GI symptoms coincided with their COVID-19 infection, and they may not think the symptoms are related to COVID-19 because they're not respiratory in nature."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.