This Is the First Sign That You Have Coronavirus, Study Says

New research from USC reveals the order in which symptoms tend to appear in COVID patients.

Now that we're five months into the pandemic, the most common coronavirus symptoms are pretty widely known. But we also know that they vary greatly from patient to patient, which can make the virus difficult to diagnose. Now, new research from a team of scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) is shedding some light on the tell-tale signs that you could have the coronavirus. Their research pinpoints the specific order of symptoms in which the virus tends to present itself, including the most common first COVID symptom.

The researchers looked at 56,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in China, as well as 2,470 flu cases in North America, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere, to compare COVID-19 symptoms to influenza and to determine the most common order.

Recognizing the order of COVID-19 symptoms can help doctors diagnose the illness, plan treatment, and in some cases, lead to early intervention. "This order is especially important to know when we have overlapping cycles of illnesses like the flu that coincide with infections of COVID-19," Peter Kuhn, MD, a USC professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, and aerospace and mechanical engineering who worked on the study, said in a statement. "Doctors can determine what steps to take to care for the patient, and they may prevent the patient's condition from worsening."

It is worth noting, however, that many COVID-19 patients show zero symptoms, so even if you don't demonstrate the tell-tale signs, you could still be positive for the virus.

So, even though the findings may not be true for all coronavirus patients, recognizing reliable COVID-19 patterns can be an enormous help. "Given that there are now better approaches to treatments for COVID-19, identifying patients earlier could reduce hospitalization time," doctoral candidate Joseph Larsen, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. The following is the most common specific order of COVID symptoms, as determined by the USC researchers. And for more unique COVID-related effects that should be on your radar, check out 5 Strange New COVID Symptoms That Doctors Are Reporting.


woman with a fever

The researchers found that the first symptom of the coronavirus is most often a fever. Not every high temperature means the patient has COVID-19, but this study found that the virus is most likely to first show up in that manner. This is consistent with previous studies, namely April research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which listed fever as a reliable symptom of the onset of the coronavirus. And for more on the odds that you're sick, check out If You Have These 4 Symptoms, Chances Are High You Have COVID.


Coughing Senior Man on fresh air, considering symptoms of coronavirus

The coronavirus is a respiratory illness, and following the onset of a fever, a cough is your likely second symptom, the researchers concluded. The specific sort of cough associated with COVID-19 is often described as "dry" and can also lead to shortness of breath. And for more on what that experience is like, check out Is Your Shortness of Breath a Coronavirus Symptom? Here's How to Know.

Muscle pain

vitamin d

Not unlike influenza, the coronavirus brings muscular pain. The USC study found that aches often come as the third symptom, following fever and cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also added muscle aches and pains to their initial list of coronavirus symptoms in late April. And for the worst-case scenario with COVID, check out 4 Coronavirus Symptoms Most Likely to Be Deadly.

Nausea and/or vomiting

young hispanic man throwing up
Shutterstock/Kleber Cordeiro

The fourth symptom of COVID-19 to show up is often stomach related, in the form of nausea and/or vomiting. Unlikely many respiratory illnesses, it's been discovered that the novel coronavirus can wreak havoc on your stomach too. "The upper GI tract (i.e., nausea/vomiting) seems to be affected before the lower GI tract (i.e., diarrhea) in COVID-19, which is the opposite from MERS and SARS," the scientists note.


close up of hand lowering toilet seat

The last symptom researchers determined is the logical conclusion of the gastrointestinal problems presented by the prior symptom: diarrhea. A March study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that looked at the earliest COVID-19 cases during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China was one of the first to identify diarrhea as a COVID symptom. And for more common signs you could have COVID, check out The 13 Most Common Coronavirus Symptoms.

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