I can not be the only person to wake up during this pandemic with a cough and think the worst. Fortunately, all my coughs have been allergy related (thank you, every plant in New Mexico), but there is absolutely no guarantee that my luck will hold out. Or yours, if you’ve been lucky enough to not get Covid-19. (Though if you got it early in the pandemic you may be vulnerable again, though the data isn’t clear.)
There is some good news if you’re questioning if that cough is Covid-19. A recent study of tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases compiled by the WHO, along with thousands of influenza cases compiled by the University of Michigan, plus a handful of other respiratory illness cases compiled around the world, indicate that there is a very common order of Covid-19’s four most identifiable symptoms.
The most likely order of Covid-19 symptoms is the following:
2. cough and muscle pain
3. nausea and/or vomiting
There are two standouts in that order. Influenza normally starts with a cough and then a fever. Other household name coronaviruses (MERS and SARS) usually strike the lower gastrointestinal tract first, meaning diarrhea comes before nausea or vomiting.
Keep in mind that this is the most common order of symptoms, but absolutely not the only possible order. Even with so many global infections there is still a lot we don’t know about the Covid-19 disease and how it presents. According to the latest CDC estimate, potentially 40% of all Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms at all. Still, researchers feel this likely order of Covid symptoms is a good guideline to determine if an individual should be tested. It also indicates that the common practice of taking someone’s temperature as an indicator of possible Covid-19 infection is a sound strategy.
With flu season rapidly approaching, and the near impossibility of widespread Covid-19 inoculations before it hits, being able to differentiate between influenza and Covid-19 on a symptomatic level is welcome news.
Dr. Andrew Porwitzky is a scientist and freelance writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, scientific articles, and essays.