How Coronavirus Symptoms Start, And What You Can Expect Each Day

Temperature screenings were employed at an airport in Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak. depaz/ Shutterstock

  • Most cases of the new coronavirus are mild, but about 20% of patients either have severe cases of disease or become critically ill.
  • A fever is the most common symptom.
  • Here's how the symptoms progress day by day among typical patients.

It starts with a fever. That's the most common symptom among patients infected by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.

The virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, has now reached more than 150 countries. The US has reported more than 8,000 cases and nearly 129 deaths

A study of nearly 140 patients at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University identified a typical pattern of symptoms associated with  COVID-19. About 99% of the patients developed a high temperature, while more than half experienced fatigue and a dry cough. About a third also experienced muscle pain and difficulty breathing.

Research from the Chinese Center for Disease Control suggests that about 80% of coronavirus cases are mild. About 15% of patients have gotten severe cases, and 5% have become critically ill.

Here's how symptoms progress among typical patients:

  • Day 1: Patients run a fever. They may also experience fatigue, muscle pain, and a dry cough. A small minority may have had diarrhea or nausea one to two days before.
  • Day 5: Patients may have difficulty breathing — especially if they are older or have a preexisting health condition.
  • Day 7: This is how long it takes, on average, before patients are admitted to a hospital, according to the Wuhan University study.
  • Day 8: At this point, patients with severe cases (15%, according to the Chinese CDC) develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, an illness that occurs when fluid builds up the lungs. ARDS is often fatal
  • Day 10: If patients have worsening symptoms, this is the time in the disease's progression when they're most likely to be admitted to the ICU. These patients probably have more abdominal pain and appetite loss than patients with milder cases. Only a small fraction die: The current fatality rate hovers at about 2%. 
  • Day 17: On average, people who recover from the virus are discharged from the hospital after 2.5 weeks. 

The first symptoms, however, may not come right after a person has been infected. The virus' average incubation period is about five days.

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