How long can Covid last?  Symptoms of coronavirus explained and how long you might test positive

How long can Covid last? Symptoms of coronavirus explained and how long you might test positive


The UK now appears to be past the peak of the latest wave of Covid infections, caused by the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron.

However, cases remain high, and many people have recently reported catching the virus for the first time more than two years into the pandemic.

The Government is no longer providing the general public with free Covid tests, meaning it is more important than ever to be aware of the symptoms.

The NHS has expanded the official symptom list to include nine more signs of coronavirus, after listing just three – a continuous cough, fever, and a loss or change to sense of taste and smell – for the majority of the pandemic.

Here are the symptoms of Covid-19 explained, how long they can last and how long you can test positive for.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

The NHS now lists the following as official Covid symptoms:

  • High temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • New, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
  • Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Aching body
  • Headache
  • sore throat
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling sick or being sick

The NHS says: “The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”

How long does Covid last?

The NHS says most people with Covid-19 or will feel better within a few weeks.

For many, particularly people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster, it will be just a few days.

However, data from the Zoe Covid study, which has been researching the virus since the start of the pandemic, suggests one in 10 people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.

“Our research shows that some people are experiencing fatigue, headaches, coughs, anosmia (loss of smell), sore throats, delirium, and chest pain for more than three weeks after first reporting symptoms in the app,” the study says.

What is long Covid?

Some people will experience what is known as long Covid – symptoms that linger for months after initial infection.

Between 3-5 per cent of people who are affected by Covid go on to have symptoms for longer than 12 weeks that affect their daily life, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The NHS says the chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get the virus.

Symptoms of long Covid include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • Bread seal
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus, earaches
  • Feeling sick, diarrhea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • Rashes

Contact a GP if you continue to experience symptoms several weeks after first testing positive for Covid-19.

People with long Covid will not be infectious for any longer than usual.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines long Covid as as a syndrome that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Zoe data suggests being fully vaccinated halves the risk of developing long Covid.

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist at the Zoe study, said: “Everyone experiences illness in their own way, and that is certainly no different in long Covid.”

How long can you test positive for?

Most people will stop testing positive within 10 days of starting to experience symptoms, or receiving their first positive test.

However, it is possible to continue testing positive for weeks or even months after having the virus.

The good news is that even if you are continuing to test positive after a long time, it is highly unlikely you are actually contagious.

The Gavi Vaccine Alliance explains: “The time taken to test negative after contracting Covid-19 depends on the severity of the case, and also on the test itself. PCR tests that hunt out parts of viral genetic material (RNA in the case of Covid-19) in our bodies and amplify it so we can detect it are extremely sensitive and can even pick up the presence of few viral fragments. This is because fragments of viral RNA can remain in our bodies long after the infection is over and the virus has been cleared from our system.”

More on Covid-19

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you have Covid-19 symptoms you are no longer required to take a test or self-isolate.

However, the NHS advises anyone with symptoms to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

If you test positive or experience symptoms, the NHS advises taking the following steps:

  • Try to work from home if you can – if you’re unable to work from home, ask your employer about options available to you;
  • Stay at home if you can – this helps reduce the number of people you have contact with;
  • Avoid contact with people at higher risk from Covid-19, especially if their immune system means they’re at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19, even if they’ve had the vaccine;
  • Follow advice on how to avoid spreading the virus to people you live with;
  • Let people who need to come into your home know that you’ve tested positive or have symptoms – they can then take steps to protect themselves, such as wearing a face covering that fits well, staying away from you as much as they can, and washing their hands regularly;
  • Contact your healthcare provider and tell them about your positive test result or symptoms if you’re asked to attend a medical or dental appointment in person;
  • Ask friends, family or neighbors to get food or other essentials for you.

If you have Covid-19, you can pass on the virus to other people for up to 10 days from when your infection starts. Many people will no longer be infectious to others after five days.

Previously, people were advised to leave isolation after five full days if they tested negative two days in a row, or after 10 days if they were continuing to test positive.

You can continue to follow that advice if you wish, and you have tests available.

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