covid symptoms

You Isolated for COVID, But Still Have a Cough. Are You Still Contagious?

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So, you isolated due to COVID-19, but still have a cough. Are you considered contagious?

According to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, coughs can linger up to a month after testing positive for the virus even if a patient isn't contagious anymore.

"The cough tends to be what lingers," Arwady said. "That doesn't mean that you're still infectious. It's that you've had a lot of inflammation in your airways and the cough is your body's attempt to sort of continue to expel any potential invader and allow it to calm down. So...I would not consider you contagious."

Typically, COVID patients aren't contagious after "a couple of weeks," Arwady added. However, she noted that if a patient continues to have a cough, a mask is recommended, though face coverings are currently encouraged indoors across Chicago.

"I would keep wearing the mask, which of course we recommend universally indoors anyway right now, and if you're exposed again, do you need to quarantine because of your cough? I would say no," Arwady said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus. You can end isolation after five full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have improved.

For some people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple weeks. For others, it may cause no symptoms at all. The virus can lead to more severe illness, including pneumonia and death, for some.

The CDC says most people with COVID-19 "get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection."

But for some, symptoms may last even longer.

"Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems," the CDC states. "These conditions can last weeks, months, or years."

Long-COVID symptoms can range from a wide variety of ailments, some of which may even disappear and then return later.

"Post-COVID conditions may not affect everyone the same way. People with post-COVID conditions may experience health problems from different types and combinations of symptoms happening over different lengths of time," the CDC reports. "Most patients’ symptoms slowly improve with time. However, for some people, post-COVID conditions may last months, and potentially years, after COVID-19 illness and may sometimes result in disability."

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, one of three doctors at John Hopkins Medical Center who runs the post-COVID clinic, told the American Lung Association in April that coughs are common after COVID-19.

"The most common symptom that signifies healing is a lingering cough because coughing is your lung’s way of sweeping out dead cells," he said. "In the case of COVID-19, this cough could last for as long as six months after the viral infection, especially if the patient contracted omicron because it is more airway dependent than the original strain."

According to the CDC, the most common long symptoms include:

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Guidelines state those who were exposed should watch for symptoms until at least 10 days after the last close contact with someone who had COVID.

So, when are you contagious?

"A person with COVID-19 is considered infectious starting two days before they develop symptoms, or two days before the date of their positive test if they do not have symptoms," according to the CDC.

Regardless of symptoms, those who test positive are advised to take specific precautions for at least 10 days.

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