A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Early signs and symptoms of Covid

In this section we explore the first signs of Covid that people we spoke to noticed. Some people we spoke to had no symptoms from Covid. Some suspected that they might have Covid because they were feeling unwell. Other people we spoke had symptoms but didn’t realise that they were caused by Covid until they took a test. These people usually thought their symptoms were a sign of something else like a cold or the flu. In this section we cover: 

  • Noticing early signs of illness in the body 
  • Differentiating Covid from a cold or the flu 

 
Noticing early signs of illness in the body 

People we spoke to felt unwell and noticed a wide range of symptoms of Covid, but others didn’t realise they had Covid because they had no symptoms. Some of the early signs of illness for people we spoke were: 

  • Tiredness
  • Aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 

 

Kashif’s symptoms started with a fever and body aches. He didn’t have the energy to move.

Kashif’s symptoms started with a fever and body aches. He didn’t have the energy to move.

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So, at first it was the fever, temperature and then the body started aching. So just tired, tired, tired. So waking up, waking up in the morning and sitting up just feeling tired and just wanna you know, just brush my teeth and wash my face. I just wanted to go back to bed again. So, it was that was the main thing that I just feeling really, really tired and sweaty, temperature, fever. That was my main, I didn’t have like coughs, I didn’t vomit, I did nothing, It wasn’t nothing serious like that. It was just for like a good seven, eight days I didn’t have no energy to move. Just feeling ill.

 

Gulsoom noticed that ‘everybody was reacting differently to Covid’.

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Gulsoom noticed that ‘everybody was reacting differently to Covid’.

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People didn’t actually know what was happening to their body because everybody was reacting differently to Covid. So some people were just getting headaches. Some people were getting cough and cold symptoms. Some people were getting the fever. Some people were literally unable to get out of bed for days upon end.


 
There are many different symptoms connected with Covid. Visit the page ‘Living through and recovering from Covid symptoms’ for more information.
 
Because Covid-19 is a new disease, at the start of the pandemic there was not a lot of information available to help people to decide if their symptoms were a sign of Covid. At this time the government and NHS told people to look out for three main symptoms – a new, continuous cough, fever, and changes in taste and smell. Lots of people we spoke to who caught Covid in 2020 were confused because their symptoms were different to these ‘big three’.
 
 

Irene didn’t have the ‘typical’ symptoms that were often spoken about in the media so wasn’t sure if she had Covid.

Irene didn’t have the ‘typical’ symptoms that were often spoken about in the media so wasn’t sure if she had Covid.

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I didn’t have the typical symptoms so I had like diarrhoea first, I was feeling sick and then it moved onto having the high temperature a few days later and I had the horrible pains in my joints, in my legs. It was just awful. I seemed to have lost a tremendous amount of weight in like days and but the weight just feel off of me. I lost my appetite and whatever.

 

Differentiating Covid from a cold or flu 

People we spoke to sometimes first suspected that they had a cold or flu before later realising that it was Covid. Mr. Ehsaan didn’t think too much about feeling unwell because he assumed it was a ‘normal cold'. Jess, who works in a hospital, thought her cough was ‘nothing’, just part of a ‘normal virus’ that she must have caught at work.

 

Beth started getting flu-like symptoms and didn’t think anything of it. She then realized it might be Covid, so she took a test.

Beth started getting flu-like symptoms and didn’t think anything of it. She then realized it might be Covid, so she took a test.

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I started getting like flu-like symptoms, started to like get cough and sneezes and things like that, I didn’t think anything of it at first, and then I was like ‘Oh god it could be Covid.’ So I got a test done and it came back positive for Covid. But you don’t really know how to sort of say how you’re feeling when you get it because you don’t really think it’s going to happen to you, until you get it.

 


 
The main ways that people we spoke to noticed that Covid was different from a cold or flu were:

  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Symptoms lasting longer than usual
  • Uncommon symptoms, like changes in taste or smell, an unusual cough and body pains 

Feeling very tired 

People we spoke to sometimes felt different in the early stages of Covid than they would with a cold or flu. They described thinking that something was ‘weird’, ‘not right’ and ‘odd’. One of the things that people we spoke to noticed was feeling especially tired and run down. Kashif said he noticed he was ‘tired tired tired’, and after brushing his teeth and washing his face he just wanted to get straight back into bed.
 

 

Rabbi Wollenberg gets flu every year but the tiredness he had from Covid was much worse.

Rabbi Wollenberg gets flu every year but the tiredness he had from Covid was much worse.

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I normally get flu for maybe a couple of days every year and I’ll be sort of, lie in bed for a day or two and basically recover. But I would just have terrible fatigue, that I could barely sort of get up in the morning. I was waking up around, I’m normally an early riser. I was waking up around midday, I was just about managing to stay awake for a couple of hours and I was just completely exhausted. No energy, lethargic, not a huge appetite. I basically stayed in my room pretty much. I think I just, we’ve got a rocking chair, I just about made it to the rocking chair. But and I thought, I think someone said, “Maybe you’ve Covid.” But they weren’t really testing at the time, and they were just telling you to stay at home until you got over it.


 
People we spoke to sometimes first thought this tiredness was because of their busy lives. Sam had been partying at the weekend and thought it could just be a long hangover. Gertrude, who works as a care home nurse, said she ‘woke up not feeling right’ but thought ‘maybe I’m just really tired because it was really, really busy’ at her job. Helen remembers feeling ‘not right’, but put it down to having done a long bike ride at the weekend. Other people we spoke with thought that their tiredness might be caused by anxieties about the pandemic.
 
 

Lyn, a mental health worker, thought she was just tired from work and stressed about the pandemic.

Lyn, a mental health worker, thought she was just tired from work and stressed about the pandemic.

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I just felt I’d been doing a lot of night shift and the level of exhaustion, a bit of breathlessness, lethargic and that feeling that I’m coming down with something, that kind of feeling, that doesn’t sit well, you know. Then my friend say, “You know what, Lyn, you’re doing too many night shift that’s causing you and also the stress from home and this pandemic and worry, that could be part of it.” But I just felt, yeah, stress, yeah, but maybe they’re maybe they’re right as when I went home, and then I feel a bit like I’m having fever, coming down with fever and then I just feel like chest tightness. I just feel very weak.

 

Sindhu was feeling really tired but thought it was because of being busy and her worries about the pandemic.

Sindhu was feeling really tired but thought it was because of being busy and her worries about the pandemic.

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By the beginning of Feb I didn’t, I didn’t have any fever, I didn’t have any cough I didn’t have any general symptoms of Covid, absolutely nothing but I was feeling really, really tired and you get this fluey feeling. You don’t have any fever or I don’t, I didn’t have any fever but I had a really bad fluey feeling but I thought because a year end is approaching and I had always working it’s being at home and he is so hard working and all that, I thought it was just a general and you know you don’t feel good anyway about you know sitting at home, you are not meeting anybody, my family is in India and it’s like so worrying anyway because you know numbers are going up there so I just put it down to the general I’m not feeling great because I’m not going out or whatever and then all of that for five days was that I was feeling really tired. Then by Thursday I felt, I felt that something was not right, and I told my husband something was not right, and he said that why don’t we do, you know, a Covid test because he was not feeling great. A couple of his colleagues had Covid.

 

Genevieve wasn’t sure if she had symptoms of breathlessness or whether she was anxious.

Genevieve wasn’t sure if she had symptoms of breathlessness or whether she was anxious.

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Just as we were prepared to do this actually so that was the weekend and then the Monday after that, we all felt slightly unwell and initially, so that was mid-March I think or the week, just a week before lockdown was announced, the first lockdown and it felt really sort of strange because the symptoms were what you might describe for anxiety attacks so, you know, short of breath and a bit tired but I wasn’t very unwell, I had maybe a ti-, tiny fever but not, not very much. It was mostly this sort of short of breath and I was like, ‘But am I just really anxious?’ I’ve been anxious for three months now, is it just me being over the top and but my husband was more unwell, he had more like flu-type syndrome, symptoms and, and this sort of made it clear to us that it wasn’t just anxiety, it was something real.

 
Symptoms lasting longer than usual

Even when people we spoke to saw their early signs of illness as a cold or a flu, an indication that something was different was that they got sicker than usual. Over a couple of days Goutam started feeling ‘worse and worse’, with a rising temperature, increased coughing, and aches all over. Mahabuba had a fever and felt that it was ‘worse than normal’. 

 

Matt didn’t think of Covid at all until his extreme tiredness didn’t improve after a few days.

Matt didn’t think of Covid at all until his extreme tiredness didn’t improve after a few days.

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On the Saturday morning it reminded me of the feeling I had when I was, I’d got chickenpox in my 40, in my 40s. And it was that slightly strange, what, what have I done, you know, something doesn't feel right. Excessive fatigue where the only option really was to curl up in a ball, in bed that sort of almost the same thing you get when you get extreme dehydration as well, that sort of thing. So, it just, I just thought I’d been unlucky and you know, yeah. I didn't think of Covid at all. It’s only that nothing improved.

 

Gulsoom thought her father had a normal cold or flu until he rapidly deteriorated and struggled to breathe.

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Gulsoom thought her father had a normal cold or flu until he rapidly deteriorated and struggled to breathe.

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And then we went into lockdown two and then my father started getting ill and we just thought it was normally, normal cold flu symptoms but he got really really ill, so for two weeks he deteriorated, and he really struggled with his breathing, and he was gasping for air. So I went to go see him and we rang the doctor and the doctor goes, “He’s got Covid pneumonia. You need to rush him to hospital.”

 

Tony Z realised something was different when his cough wouldn’t go away even after using an inhaler.

Tony Z realised something was different when his cough wouldn’t go away even after using an inhaler.

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I was the one who started coughing really badly one Sunday, Sunday the I think 13th of December 2020, just had a real dry cough and I thought, “Oh maybe my asthmas kicked back in” because I did have slight asthma years back but not really used my pump. So, I thought, “Oh maybe, maybe it’s just your asthma kicking in, change of season, you know, it’s gone damp,” so, you know, I used my pump, but that dry cough was, wasn’t going anywhere fast.

 

Uncommon symptoms

Some symptoms of Covid were easier to identify than others. These were often symptoms that people didn’t usually get with a cold or flu.
 
People told us that changes in taste or smell often made them think about Covid. When Sarita was eating chocolate, she noticed that it tasted salty rather than sweet. Zubair decided to isolate from his family when he realised he had completely lost his sense of taste and smell.
 

 

Genevieve’s husband is 100% sure he had Covid because he lost his sense of smell and taste.

Genevieve’s husband is 100% sure he had Covid because he lost his sense of smell and taste.

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As I said, we weren’t getting tested at all so we weren’t 100% sure, like we, we had a good idea, right. My husband was actually absolutely 100% sure that this is what he had because he’s not often ill and he, he also had lost his sense of smell and taste so that was also a very sign of Covid so I think from these symptoms we assumed we were pretty sure that this is what we had.

 

Mohammed realised he might have Covid when he lost his appetite and sense of taste.

Mohammed realised he might have Covid when he lost his appetite and sense of taste.

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I something from, I had some temperature, I lost my appetite and the taste as well. I felt weak. So, these two, three things I experienced. And when I, I didn’t realise that it is a symptoms of Covid, so I talked about that, I don’t feel the taste. I cannot eat. And at that I realised that I might have Covid. I had some temperature.


 
Some people we spoke experienced an unusual cough. Sarita didn’t usually get a cough, so when one started, she was suspicious that it might be Covid. Gwilym noticed he had a ‘dry raspy type of cough’ and booked a test.
 
 

Paul X had a cough that was more violent than usual and didn’t go away.

Paul X had a cough that was more violent than usual and didn’t go away.

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It was very violent and it just didn’t go away. That’s why, I didn’t know. I’m not an, I’m not very medical so I don’t know. Simply, on a personal level, because it was unlike, I just thought the chances of getting a cough unlike any cough I’ve ever had at the same time as the worldwide pandemic, there may well be a link there.


 
Some people we spoke to also made a connection between unusual pain in their bodies and Covid. Tony told us about ‘serious aches’ which he had never had before. Esther felt like she had been ‘hit by a truck’. Mirua gets flu often but felt that her ‘whole body was really sore’ in a way that was ‘totally different from flu’.
 
 

Esther’s body was aching in places she didn’t know it could ache.

Esther’s body was aching in places she didn’t know it could ache.

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And it’s really funny because I woke up, you know, the morning after the funeral and said, “Oh my God, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck” [laughs]. And my partner, Lucy, just said, “Do a Covid test” because she had heard that phrase used before from people who’ve had Covid like exactly word for word. And so, yeah, it was just a real kind of body ache kind of, you know, in places I didn't know that I could ache you know [laughs].

 

Miura suspected Covid when her whole body was sore in a different way than she was used to with flu.

Miura suspected Covid when her whole body was sore in a different way than she was used to with flu.

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By the time I was in my car driving to my test centre I knew that I had Covid already. My whole body was really sore. I started with headache [laughs]. I know, you know it was weird because I never felt in such a way you know. I am a person who suffers a lot from flu but that was totally different from flu.

 

Razia thought she was just under the weather until she woke up with terrible body pain.

Razia thought she was just under the weather until she woke up with terrible body pain.

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And, at first, we just thought, do you know what, it’s, we’re just a bit under the weather, you know, bit under the weather and then my husband, he very rarely gets ill, touch wood, and he was like, “Well, I think it’s, my body is really hurting.” And then the kids had it and at first we thought it was a little bit of a sniffle, you know, January, as that happens but we had, I think three days when once I woke up in the morning and I was literally in more pain than I probably was in labour.

 

 

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