Cook County doctor reveals the COVID symptoms she's seeing most

A Chicago-area doctor said she's noticed shifts in the most common symptoms her patients have reported when contracting the COVID-19 virus this fall

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As medical experts prepare for a potential rise in cases of flu, RSV and COVID amid peak virus season this winter, what should you watch for when it comes to symptoms?

A Chicago-area doctor said she's noticed shifts in the most common symptoms her patients have reported when contracting the COVID-19 virus this fall.

Dr. Chantel Tinfang, a family medicine physician with Sengstacke Health Center at Provident Hospital of Cook County, noted that patients who haven't received the fall booster, but may have been vaccinated or boosted roughly a year ago, are "still experiencing symptoms, and they get really sick."

"I have prescribed medication over the past few weeks to treat some patients because they were not really getting better after staying home," Tinfang said.

People who contract COVID may exhibit a wide range of symptoms, including the common ones listed below, as defined by the CDC:

  • 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

But Tinfang noted that, anecdotally, the recent cases she's seen have reported less of the fever, body aches and chills, and more presented with sore throat, fatigue and coughing.

"We still see some patients experiencing decreased appetite, a loss of taste or smell. So it kind of depends," she said. "One patient was just very, very tired. Like she couldn't really do much. And that's when you know ... it's different. It's not just coughing and shortness of breath. We still see that though."

She suggested consulting with your doctor if your symptoms don't begin to improve outside of the recommended isolation period.

"Sometimes the symptoms can linger, and that's a sign that we need to actually act," Tinfang said. "But some people will go ahead and recover just by drinking fluid and resting."

The guidelines for isolating have not changed since May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who test positive for COVID-19, are urged to stay home for at least five days and isolate. The CDC notes that people are "likely most infectious during these first five days."

Those who have mild symptoms can end isolation after day five if they are fever-free for 24 hours, without using fever-reducing medication, but those with more moderate or severe illnesses may need to wait until day 10. Those who have mild symptoms that are not improving should also wait until those symptoms are improving and they are fever-free for 24 hours.

But people with more severe illness may also want to consult with their doctor before ending isolation and could need a viral test to end their isolation period, according to the guidelines.

The CDC notes that "some people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience long-term effects from their infection, known as long COVID or post-COVID conditions (PCC)."

The conditions and symptoms include a wide range of health problems, which can last "weeks, months, or years," according to the agency.

"Most people with COVID-19 get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection, so at least four weeks after infection is the start of when long COVID could first be identified," the CDC states.

But what Tinfang noticed about vaccination status appears to be in line with a recent report from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In late summer, officials approved updated shots that have a single target, an omicron descendant named XBB.1.5. They replaced vaccines that targeted the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version. Last month, the CDC recommended the new shots for everyone 6 months and older.

Americans have been urged to get different iterations of the vaccines for more than 2 and 1/2 years. This year, COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations fell to lower levels than seen in the previous three years.

Cases remain low compared with the pandemic's early months. Even so, health officials say about 18,000 hospitalization and 1,200 deaths are still being reported each week.

On Friday, Illinois' health department reported that hospitalizations were rising in at least six counties in the state, despite an overall downward trend in hospitalizations in recent weeks, according to the CDC’s national COVID Data Tracker for the week ending Oct. 14.

"Studies have consistently shown that COVID-19 vaccines lower the risk of getting symptomatic COVID-19 and improve protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death," IDPH said in a release. "New evidence is also emerging that it can protect you from long COVID and flu vaccines are also protective against heart disease."

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