Coronavirus infections produce a variety of common symptoms, including a dry cough, fever, and, especially in moderate to severe cases, shortness of breath. But doctors who have treated COVID-19 patients have seen a slew of other symptoms that haven’t typically been associated with other coronavirus infections.
“Additional symptoms people experience include loss of smell and taste, stomach aches, body aches, and nausea,” said Dr. Edo Paz, the vice president of medical at the telemedicine company K Health.
Gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, diarrhea, and even vomiting, are somewhat prevalent in COVID-19 patients. Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious-disease specialist at Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, said that from what he’d seen “10% of patients have gastrointestinal symptoms.”
What physicians don’t understand, however, is why there appears to be such a broad range of symptoms — and outcomes — of COVID-19. “The medical community doesn’t know yet why the coronavirus affects people differently, and some more intensely than others,” Paz said.
But Dr. Rishi Desai, the chief medical officer at Osmosis, believes the symptoms and outcomes may directly correlate to the way the coronavirus moves through each infected person’s body.
“Each person has a unique immune system, and as a result, some people will react very aggressively to COVID-19, and others won’t,” Desai said. “Symptoms generally correspond to where the virus is located in the body.”
How the COVID-19 virus moves through the human body
Desai said the virus first hit the nose and back of the throat, causing common-cold-like symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. That’s also when patients will lose their senses of smell and taste.
Next, Desai said, the virus moves to the lungs, possibly causing shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. It could then move to the bloodstream, where fever, nights sweats, malaise, and fatigue could result.
“That means that some folks may only get symptoms localized to one region whereas others may get a mixture of symptoms across all of the regions,” Desai said. Just as concerning, many COVID-19 symptoms can be associated with other ailments, making the illness harder to pin down.
Symptoms not associated with COVID-19
According to Desai, there are some symptoms that so far haven’t been tied to COVID-19.
“COVID-19 doesn’t cause focal symptoms affecting the limbs (e.g. left leg pain), doesn’t cause focal skin lesions or rashes (e.g., a boil), and doesn’t cause chronic symptoms meaning ones that last for months and months,” Desai said.
Unfortunately, no one can predict how coronavirus will affect them. And that makes prevention all the more important. But experts don’t have a silver bullet to guarantee protection. At this point, people just need to practice good hygiene and social distancing.
“Wash your hands frequently using soap and water,” Paz said. “And don’t touch your face if possible!”