The Earliest Signs You Have COVID, According to Johns Hopkins

Be on the lookout for these five early COVID symptoms.

As coronavirus continues to surge across the country, spotting COVID early can be crucial in treating the virus. But how can you know that you're dealing with coronavirus in the earliest days of infection? According to Johns Hopkins, there are certain telltale signs of COVID that tend to emerge sooner rather than later—five to be exact—and these could tip you off that it's time to lock down. Read on to find out what they are, and for more information on COVID symptoms, check out If Your Symptoms Appear in This Order, You May Have Severe COVID.

Experts warn that the early signs of COVID can be easily overlooked. According to Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, MD, the senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, "COVID-19 can cause symptoms that are mild at first, but then become more intense over five to seven days, with worsening of a cough and shortness of breath. For some, pneumonia develops."

As she explains in a Q&A on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, this is why all of these symptoms should be taken seriously, however mild.

Lockerd Maragakis adds, "The type and severity of first symptoms can vary widely from person to person, and that is why it is very important to call your doctor if you think you have any symptoms." In fact, given that many patients never notice symptoms because they have a mild or asymptomatic case, you should always act as though you are infected. Wear masks and practice social distancing even when you believe yourself to be in good health. Read on to find out which symptoms serve as the earliest signs of COVID, and for more on spotting the virus, check out If You Have This Symptom, There's an 80 Percent Chance You Have COVID.

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If you suddenly start feeling sluggish, drained, or weak, your fatigue could be an early sign that you've contracted coronavirus.

A study published by the World Health Organization has shown that roughly 38 percent of COVID patients report fatigue, making it the third most common symptom of coronavirus. And for more news on this symptom, check out If You're More Tired Than Usual, Here's How to Tell If It's COVID.


Man suffering from fatigue

Roughly eight out of 10 COVID patients experience neurological symptoms, and headaches are the most common among them.

A study recently published by researchers from the University of Istanbul in Turkey found that there are five key signs that your headache is the result of COVID, as opposed to another illness, stress, or migraine. To learn more about COVID headaches, check out This Is How to Tell If Your Headache Is COVID, Study Says.

Sore throat

Man with sore throat

A sore throat is a sneaky symptom because it could indicate any number of illnesses. But rather than assuming your sore throat is due to a cold, the flu, or strep, Lockerd Maragakis says you should take it seriously as a potential early sign of COVID.

According to Physician One Urgent Care, a sore throat from COVID typically presents with other symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, congestion, or loss of taste and smell. It also tends to develop more slowly than a sore throat from strep. And for more ways to interpret your respiratory symptoms, check out This Is How to Tell If Your Cough Is COVID, According to Doctors.


Woman laying on couch with fever and chills

Often COVID patients will present with a fever first, or it will be the only symptom. But Lockerd Maragakis also warns that while a fever has come to be expected, not every COVID patient will have one.

"You can be infected with the coronavirus and have a cough or other symptoms with no fever, or a very low-grade one, especially in the first few days. Keep in mind that it is also possible to have COVID-19 with minimal or even no symptoms at all," she explains. And for more COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Loss of smell or taste

Woman can't taste ice cream

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a majority of COVID patients report that they experience an altered or lost sense of smell or taste. Of all the early symptoms, this may be the clearest signal that you're dealing with COVID and not something else, given how rarely this occurs in other illnesses. If you find that you've lost your sense of smell or taste, it's definitely time to isolate and get a COVID test. And for more rare ways the virus appears, check out This Strange Symptom Could Be the Only Sign You Have COVID, Study Says.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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