This Is How Long Coronavirus Actually Lasts If You Get Sick

As the coronavirus epidemic continues in the US, you might be wondering just how long you'll be sick if you do contract COVID-19. Every case is different, but after months of scientific study and data collection, experts have a fairly good idea. Here are the symptoms you'll be dealing with, when they'll likely strike, and how long it will take until you're fully recovered and can safely emerge from self-isolation. 

When do the first COVID-19 symptoms appear? 

Not everyone who gets COVID-19 has symptoms—in fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) says 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic. Yet those who do may develop fever and chills, a cough, muscle or body aches, fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or a loss of taste or smell. Other people with COVID-19 have reported headache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Yes, that’s a pretty large window. But a recent study by US immunologists, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, narrowed it down. They analyzed more than 180 COVID-19 cases and found that, on average, it takes just over five days for COVID-19 symptoms to hit. 

The research team also found that 97% of people who get the virus will develop symptoms within 11 days from the time they are first infected. Any of these symptoms can strike at any time during the course of the illness, from day one to the last days.

How long does it take to recover? 

The COVID-19 recovery period depends on the severity of the illness. If you have a mild case, you can expect to recover within about two weeks. But for more severe cases, it could take six weeks or more to feel better, and hospitalization might be required.  

According to the CDC, older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions, like heart or lung disease or diabetes, may be at risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.

What is ‘viral persistence,’ and how does that affect the course of the disease?

Sometimes the coronavirus sticks around longer than expected—and scientists are still trying to figure out why that happens in some patients, how it varies by individual, and exactly how long the virus stays alive inside the body. This is known as viral persistence, and it affects how long someone is contagious and therefore how long they should stay in isolation. 

“Viral clearance is the disappearance of an infecting virus, either in response to a therapeutic agent or as a result of the body’s immune response,” Dr. Bailey explains. “This implies recovery from infection and lack of ongoing contagiousness. On the other hand, viral persistence is the continued presence of a virus, usually within specific types of cells, after resolution of symptoms of the acute viral infection.”

Viral persistence is seen in HIV, chronic hepatitis, chickenpox/shingles and herpes simplex, and Epstein-Barr. While it’s not typically a characteristic of acute respiratory infections such as COVID-19, research suggests that some people do have persistent COVID-19 infections. One study from China published in Quantitative Imaging in Medicine and Surgery demonstrates this: In the study, a woman had mild COVID-19 symptoms, which disappeared after 2–3 weeks. However, she retained a positive diagnosis status for over two months. 

When can you safely go out in public?  

The biggest risk of going out in public after having COVID-19 is transmitting the virus to others. If you follow the guidelines, however you can minimize the dangers.  

“In most instances, contagiousness is negligible after 10 days, but this period may be more prolonged, e.g. two weeks or more, in those with an impaired immune system,” Charles Bailey, MD, medical director of infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, tells Health. “If feasible, prolonging isolation for such people should be considered, perhaps to two or even three weeks, and they should be encouraged to wear a mask when they do venture out in public.” (As should everyone who goes outside and isn't able to socially distance.)

If you do come down with COVID-19, the best way to determine whether you’re still contagious is to get tested, but that’s not an option for everyone. “Currently, there is limited repeat testing ability due to supply shortages, so we rely on symptom-based resolution,” Jorge Vournas, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, California, tells Health. 

Your doctor will be able to advise you based on your overall health and the severity of your illness, but the CDC recommendation is to wait at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms and three days free without fever, provided your symptoms are improving. 

And venturing out into the world again doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind—far from it. Dr. Vournas advises being “extra cautious for several weeks.”  

“Practice physical distancing, wear a mask, and wash hands regularly—these are the best practices at the moment,” he says. “There is no good reason to not be too careful. In addition to the common recommendations, be careful with who you interact with, especially high-risk elderly and those with comorbid conditions,” aka, health complications or impaired immunity.  

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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If we spent the cost of COVID-19 on pandemic preparations it would have lasted 500 years

COVID-19 has taken advantage of a world in disorder, causing catastrophic health, social, and economic consequences and irreparable harm to humanity. The virus has killed close to a million people and many more may die as a result of its impact on health systems, food supplies, and the economy. The financial cost will be in the trillions.

This will not be the last global health emergency. The world simply cannot afford to be unprepared again, warns the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) in its second report “A World in Disorder,” released today.

Last year, the GPMB warned that the world was unprepared for the very real likelihood of a deadly pandemic spreading around the globe, killing millions of people, disrupting economies, and destabilizing national security. The Board called for urgent action to break the cycle of panic and neglect that has characterized the response to global health crises in the past.

In its new report, the GPMB provides a harsh assessment of the global COVID-19 response, calling it “a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly.” In many countries, leaders have struggled to take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practice. This lack of accountability by leaders has led to a profound and deepening deficit in trust that is hampering response efforts.

“Transparency and accountability are essential in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elhadj As Sy, co-Chair of the GPMB. “Trust is the foundation of government-community relationships for better health but that trust dissipates when governments and leaders do not deliver on their commitments.”

Responsible leadership and good citizenship have been key determinants of COVID-19’s impact, the report finds—systems are only as effective as the people who use them.

The report also finds that, while COVID-19 has demonstrated that the world is deeply interconnected through economics, trade, information, and travel, one of the greatest challenges of the pandemic has been faltering multilateral cooperation. Leadership by the G7, G20, and multilateral organizations has been hampered by geopolitical tensions. The Board calls on leaders to renew their commitment to the multilateral system and strengthen WHO as an impartial and independent international organization. Weakening and undermining the multilateral action will have serious consequences on global health security, it warns. No-one is safe until all are safe.


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“Viruses don’t respect borders. The only way out of this devastating pandemic is along the path of collective action, which demands a strong and effective multilateral system,” said H.E. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, co-chair of the GPMB. “The UN system, which includes the WHO, was created after World War II and has helped make the world a better place for billions of people. It needs to be defended, strengthened, and revitalized, not attacked and undermined.”

The report highlights how the devastating social and economic impact of pandemics, especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged, is often underestimated and ignored. COVID-19’s long-term socioeconomic impacts are predicted to last for decades, with the World Bank’s conservative scenario estimating a US$ 10 trillion earning loss over time for the younger generation as a result of pandemic-related educational deficits.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of protecting lives and livelihoods and widening our understanding of preparedness to make education, social, and economic sectors pandemic proof. “A World in Disorder” reveals that the return on investment for pandemic preparedness is immense. It would take 500 years to spend as much on preparedness as the world is currently losing due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has shown the fragility of not only our health systems, but also our global economy. The impact of COVID-19 has been huge in the world and particularly in my region, the Americas, with a sharp increase in health, social and economic inequities,” said Jeannette Vega, GPMB member and Chief Medical Innovation and Technology Officer, La Red de Salud UC-Christus, Chile. “Let’s hope that this time we finally learn the lesson and invest in preparedness and public goods for health to avoid similar tragedies in the future.”

The report highlights the actions that must be taken to end the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid the next catastrophe—to bring order out of chaos. It calls for responsible leadership, engaged citizenship, strong and agile systems for health security, sustained investment, and robust global governance for preparedness.

“A World in Disorder” identifies the specific commitments and actions leaders and citizens must take—boldly, decisively, and immediately. These include sustainable and predictable financing for global and national health security, and a call to hold a UN Summit on Global Health Security to develop an international framework for health emergency preparedness and response.

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If sitting at a desk all day is bad during coronavirus, could I lie down to work instead?

Most of us have heard that too much sitting is bad for you. Studies show sitting increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

With Americans more sedentary than ever, that’s particularly alarming. Even before COVID-19, many of us had managed to engineer physical activity out of our lives. But now, the pandemic has made things worse. Going outside less, missing the gym, working from home and countless hours on Zoom has meant, for most of us, even more sitting.

One question that occasionally comes up about this, perhaps from couch potatoes looking for a loophole, or maybe just those who prefer a more precise definition: Is reclining better? Instead of sitting upright (or slumped over) at a desk all day, is it somehow healthier to lie on the sofa, or relax in a hammock, or lean back in the easy chair? After all, your body is positioned differently. Does that distinction matter?

As an exercise physiologist, I can give you a short answer to that: No. (Sorry.) And instead of “sitting,” maybe we should use the term “sedentary behavior,” which is any waking behavior (note the word “waking”) that’s associated with low levels of energy expenditure. That includes sitting, reclining or lying down, according to the 2018 Physical Activity guidelines.

Move, move, move

Does physical activity help reduce, even eliminate, the negative impact of sedentary behavior? A 2016 study reviewed data from more than 1 million men and women. Those who sat a lot, and had little moderate or vigorous physical activity, had the highest risk of mortality from all causes. Those who sat only a little, and had high levels of moderate or vigorous physical activity, had the lowest risk.

What about someone in between? Someone who sits a lot but also engages in plenty of physical activity? The findings show mortality risk decreases as long as physical activity increases, regardless of sitting time. But the best way to go: high levels of activity, low levels of sedentary behavior.

How much activity do you need? The current estimate is 60 to 75 minutes a day of moderate activity, or 30 to 40 minutes of vigorous activity; do at least one of the two.

Physical activity: Good for everyone

Now let’s define physical activity: body movements that require energy expenditure, according to the World Health Organization. That covers plenty of ground: Any movement while working or playing counts, whether chores around the house or walks around the neighborhood. Your benefits from this activity begin immediately, and any amount helps. It doesn’t matter if you’re very young, very old or if you have chronic disabilities.

Notice I haven’t yet used the word “exercise”—until now. Exercise, obviously, is a type of physical activity, structured to improve flexibility, balance and speed, along with cardio and muscular fitness. It’s one of the best things you can do to improve your health and quality of life.

Benefits include a lower risk of mortality from all causes: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension and osteoporosis. Your brain health will be better, perhaps enough to help ward off depression, anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s. And your sleep will improve.

Sleep on it

About sleep: The sedentary behavior referenced earlier does not include sleep. For optimal health, sleep is an absolute must.

Everyone is compromised by sleep deficiency, sometimes known as short sleep, or fewer than six hours per day. Difficulties with behavior, emotional control, decision-making and problem-solving are just some of the effects in people of all ages.

Poor sleep can also affect the immune system in people of all ages, leading to vulnerability to infections. It can be a factor in suicide, depression and high-risk behavior. And poor sleep also promotes obesity; essentially, a deficiency increases your “hunger hormone” (ghrelin) and decreases the “satiety hormone” (leptin). This makes you more likely to overeat.

In adults, sleep deficiency is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and kidney disease. Adults need seven to eight hours per day.

Kids also suffer when they do not get enough sleep. Lack of sleep slows the release of growth hormone. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep, and children age 6-12 need 9-12 hours.

Physical activity and good sleep go hand in hand. Moderate to vigorous activity lets you fall asleep faster and get more deep sleep; it reduces daytime sleepiness and use of sleep medications.

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Need a pep talk? Here are ten rules to live by if you want to make a change

Sometimes in life all we need is someone to sit us down, give us a good talking to and offer some advice.

Whether it’s motivation to workout, reasons to change career, how to overcome adversity or to boost your confidence, talking to someone who has ‘been there and done that’ can have a hugely positive impact on your own life.

PepTalk is a new online coaching platform that allows you to connect with people such as entrepreneurs, industry experts, award-winning adventurers and gold-medal athletes.

The aim is to motivate, educate and inspire you to be bigger and better than you were before.

We’ve asked ten of their experts to share the rules they live by, in order to lead a healthier and happier life.

Rule 1: When making changes, understand why

‘I encourage moderation and understanding when making lifestyle changes,’ says Marina Kirik, stress buster, joy finder and meditation coach.

‘Whether it’s changes to diet and exercise, improving hydration or mindfulness, I encourage sustainable shifts.

‘Don’t go on a diet, instead understand why you should eat more fruit and vegetables and incorporate them in your life in a way that’s feasible.

‘If you start drinking more water, make sure you know the why of what water does for your body.

‘I find this approach encourages people to make changes that fit their lifestyle and that they feel motivated to keep up.’

Rule 2: Take steps every day to care for your skin

‘Remember that caring for your health as a whole prevents ageing and brings about beautiful skin,’ says Katy Burris, skincare physician.

‘Eat a diet filled with antioxidants, aim to drink at least eight to ten cups of water each day and be sure to exercise.

‘Take a vitamin D supplement to keep your bones strong and your immune system supported.

‘In addition, hydrate your skin with moisturiser twice daily and always wear sunscreen — it’s the best anti-ageing remedy we have.’

Rule 3: Don’t hesitate to take time off

‘Before starting my business, I worked remotely and found it challenging to switch off at the end of the day,’ says Emma Dechoux, a straight-talking leadership coach and inspirational mentor.

‘What helped was switching devices off and going for a walk or run.

‘This allowed me to decompress and reflect and return home re-energised.

‘It’s also important to be proactive with your self-care and I schedule at least one wellbeing day off per month.’

Rule 4: Get into a good sleep routine

‘Sleep plays an essential role in wellbeing and performance,’ says Matt Lovell, performance, nutrition and wellbeing specialist.

‘Ensure you follow the obvious rules: power down and try to be in restful mode a couple of hours before you want to sleep and steer clear of “blue light” devices like computers and phones.

‘Try some slow breathing, and if you have a pet, it can be quieting to spend time with them.

‘Being restful before sleep can help regulate your stress hormones, so when you do wake, you’re ready to go.’

Rule 5: Don’t be afraid to make a change

‘I work with many clients who feel unfulfilled in their work,’ says Lauren Phelps, change and accountability coach.

‘If you feel disengaged, uninspired and spend your spare time playing mindless games on your phone, it’s a sign you need a change.

‘Your past doesn’t dictate your future. Rise out of that rut.

‘There is a more compelling future waiting for you. Making tiny changes are small steps towards a better life.’

Rule 6: Get your ‘five-a-day’ for the mind

‘Each person is different in terms of how they support their mental health and wellbeing — meditation, mindfulness, exercise or therapy,’ says Charlie Hoare, positive psychologist and wellbeing consultant.

‘Try out some of these practices to determine what works for you.

‘Just as you’d aim to eat five fruit and vegetables per day to keep your body healthy, try to do five things to keep your mind healthy, whether that’s a moment of mindfulness or stepping into nature.

‘Try not to feel you need to be productive all the time; a rest is also good for the soul.’

Rule 7: Look up, around and forward

‘I have lived by this rule every day of my life since I retired from international rugby,’ says Catherine Spencer, former England rugby captain and female empowerment coach.

‘I use it to fuel my future in a positive way. It helps me to be focused, confident and ultimately happy.

‘It is important to have the confidence to try different things, to aim for goals and to aspire to our dreams; some we will achieve, some we won’t but that is OK.

‘It takes all of our experiences to push us forward.’

Rule 8: Prioritise your health

‘Make sure your health is always a top priority,’ says Peter Dale, Sky Sports presenter and inspirational broadcaster.

‘As someone who suffered a major heart attack aged 36 — even though I worked out and felt fit — I’ve learned it’s crucial to care for yourself and get your heart checked regularly.

‘If your body doesn’t feel quite right, don’t put off going to see the doctor.

‘Young people today have the pressure of high expectations and this can really impact their health.’

Rule 9: For happiness, find ways to serve others

‘During challenging times, turn off national and international news and tune into your community,’ says communications expert Jenifer Sarver.

‘Obsessing over global events which you have little control over can be overwhelming.

‘My solution is to prioritise what’s going on in my city, in my neighbourhood and take direct action to help.

‘I find serving others alleviates my own stress and anxiety.

‘Reaching out and helping others makes our lives richer and more meaningful and has a positive impact on our world.’

Rule 10: Make sure to listen to yourself

‘Take time and space to consider what’s working in your life and what isn’t,’ explains Dierdre Wolownick, language professor and inspirational motivator.

‘It’s important to make sure we’re living the life we want, not the life others think we should be.

‘Try journaling and reflecting on your entries. Or, get outside to experience nature and exercise; you don’t have to run a marathon.

‘Committing to physical activity can provide clarity on who you are and who you want to be.’

PepTalks from £40 at getapeptalk.com

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Easy to overdose on paracetamol if you’re selenium deficient, says research

A lack of the mineral selenium in the diet puts people at risk of paracetamol overdose, even when the painkiller is taken at levels claimed to be safe on the packaging, according to collaborative research emerging from the University of Bath and Southwest University in China.

Paracetamol (also called Tylenol) is best known for relieving mild pain and fever, and is a leading cause of liver failure when taken at dangerous levels. For adults, the recommended maximum daily dosage is 4g (amounting to two 500mg tablets taken four times). However, the team from Bath and Chongqing has found that the micronutrient selenium affects the speed at which the painkiller is flushed from the body. As a result, taking 4g of the medication in a given day can be dangerous for people with low levels of selenium in their bodies.

“People with a selenium deficiency can struggle to eliminate the drug fast enough to keep their livers healthy,” explained Dr. Charareh Pourzand who led the collaborative research from the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. “They can overdose even when they follow dosage guidelines.”

A huge amount of Paracetamol is consumed around the world, with an average person in the UK popping 70 tablets (or 35 grams) every year. Dr. Pourzand said: “For most people, paracetamol is safe up to the stated dose. But if you are frail, malnourished or elderly, your levels of selenium are likely to be somewhat depleted, and for these people I think it’s a bad idea to take paracetamol at the maximum level currently considered safe.”

It is thought that insufficient selenium intake affects up to 1 billion people worldwide—or one in seven of the globe’s population. It may be tempting to boost selenium levels through supplements, but based on the results of this study, Dr. Pourzand advises against this course of action, as an excess of the micronutrient can be just as dangerous to the body as a deficiency.

“There is a rather limited dose range for the beneficial effects of selenium,” she said. “Both mild selenium deprivation in the body and excess supplementation increase the severity of liver injury after you’ve taken paracetamol.”

She added: “This study shows that the link between selenium status in the diet and paracetamol toxicity is very important. I hope people pay attention to these findings, given everyone has paracetamol in their home. And now with people falling ill with COVID-19, paracetamol is being taken more than ever.”

Selenium helps maintain a healthy redox balance in the body within antioxidant enzymes called selenoproteins (selenium-containing proteins). Redox balance describes the mechanism by which each cell maintains a subtle balance between antioxidant and pro-oxidant levels (where some atoms gain electrons and others lose them, becoming free radicals). When the body’s selenium levels fall out of the beneficial range, antioxidant enzyme activities are decreased and too many free radicals are formed in liver—the main organ where paracetamol is metabolized. This results in damage both to an individual’s DNA and to their proteins.

Dr. Pourzand emphasizes the importance of a good diet in keeping selenium levels within the recommended range. “A healthy, balanced diet is especially important if you take paracetamol on a regular basis, for instance for chronic pain,” she said.

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