Here's how long coronavirus symptoms can last in your system - and when symptoms go away

Friday, 27th March 2020, 11:32 am
Updated Friday, 27th March 2020, 12:53 pm

As the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise in the UK, you might be wondering just how long you'll be ill for if you do contract Covid-19.

Here are all your answers:

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

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A study by American scientists confirmed how long it can take for symptoms of Covid-19 to show in humans.

The team of immunologists examined more than 180 cases of Covid-19, to gain a more accurate picture of the virus’ incubation period in humans.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the findings suggest that, on average, it takes just over five days for symptoms of Covid-19 to develop.

97 per cent of all people who get the virus will develop symptoms within 11 days at most from the time when they were first infected, the study also found.

The estimates in the report “can help public health officials to set rational and evidence-based COVID-19 control policies,” it authors wrote.

How long do coronavirus symptoms last?

As with just about every other facet of this new disease, even the experts aren't 100 per cent sure on how long the symptoms of Covid-19 will last in a person.

Based on the current government guidelines for self-isolation, it's expected to be anything between seven and 14 days; although in some cases symptoms could persist for longer.

According to the NHS, members of the public should self-isolate for seven days if they have a new and continuous cough and/or a fever.

Public Health England have recommended the following steps with regards to the length of self-isolation measures:

  • If you live with others and you or one of them have symptoms of coronavirus, then all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill
  • For anyone in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for seven days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 day isolation period.

Public Health England say that if you feel better after seven days of self-isolating “you can return to your normal routine.”

If, on the other hand, you have not shown signs of improvement, you should contact NHS 111 online, or by phone if you have no internet access.

Cough may persist for several weeks in some people, despite the coronavirus infection having cleared. A persistent cough alone does not mean you must continue to self-isolate for more than seven days.

How long can coronavirus last on surfaces?

According to the World Health Organisation, we do not know for sure.

Studies suggest that coronaviruses - a large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses - may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

This may vary under different conditions, for example the type of surfaces, temperature or humidity of the environment.

It's worth noting that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that although a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own face - it's "not thought to be the main way the virus spreads".

That said health officials have emphasised that both washing your hands frequently and cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces daily are key in preventing the virus' spread.

If you think a surface may be contaminated, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.

Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms? 

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness.

Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat.

It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell. 

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly.

The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home.

People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential.

Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries.

Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants,  theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis.

Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate.

People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel.

Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms.

If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS