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Early Signs You Have a COVID Infection

Knowing the signs can save your live.

Reports of rising caseloads and travel restrictions, reminders to mask up—the COVID-19 pandemic may seem frustratingly like more of the same. But the face of COVID is changing. Not only is the Delta variant much more contagious, it also seems to be producing slightly different initial symptoms—and the Omicron variant is here, too. Those are important to know, even if you've been vaccinated, because the virus can produce breakthrough infections. If you experience any of these symptoms, get a COVID test and call your doctor for advice. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



Woman touching her ears.

The Delta variant is increasingly showing up with a symptom that hasn't been seen before with COVID-19: earaches, several doctors told WFLA 8 in Tampa, Florida, last week. Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel said an earache was one of two prominent symptoms that caused him to seek a COVID test, which came back positive.


Sore Throat

Woman with sore throat at home

The second symptom Vrabel suffered was a sore throat, which is also increasingly seen with the Delta variant. "The reason we are seeing earaches more often is because sore throat is so prominent [with Delta variant], and the earache is coming from [the] sore throat," Dr. Nicole Frommann, medical director for TGH Urgent Care in Florida, told WFLA.

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Runny Nose and Sneezing

Woman blowing her nose into tissue

For months, researchers with the Covid Symptom Study have been tracking the symptoms of new COVID cases through an app. They, too, have noticed that the signs of Delta are different than those associated with the original strain. "The symptoms we are seeing now are much more commonly identified with the common cold," Dr. Andrew T. Chan, an epidemiologist and one of the study's lead investigators, in The New York Times. "We are still seeing people presenting with a cough, but we are also seeing a higher prevalence of things like runny nose and sneezing." 

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Man sitting on bed holding his head.

The COVID Symptom Study is tracking new cases among three groups of people: The unvaccinated, the fully vaccinated, and those who've had one vaccine dose. All three groups now report that their most common symptom is headache. That's a change from the pandemic's early days, when people most commonly reported a cough, shortness of breath, or loss of smell or taste. Researchers say loss of smell, in particular, seems to be less common with Delta.

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A persistent cough was the fifth-most-reported symptom among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated in the COVID Symptom Study. But coughing only ranked #8 among the fully vaccinated—possible evidence that another previous hallmark symptom is becoming less common. Also sliding down the list: Shortness of breath and fever, which are much less frequently reported now than in the pandemic's first waves.

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How to Stay Safe Out There


Call a doctor or get tested if you experience any of the symptoms you just read about or any of the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
And no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.
Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael