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Coronavirus and COVID-19

If you have symptoms of coronavirus

If you think you have developed symptoms of coronavirus, it’s important you take the right steps to protect yourself and to prevent the spread of the virus.

On this page:

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are: 

  • high temperature
  • a new continuous cough
  • loss or change in your sense of smell and a reduced sense of taste
  • shortness of breath

But people can also have other, less common symptoms, including aches and pains, feeling very tired, diarrhoea, feeling nauseous or vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite, coughing up a lot of phlegm, sore throat, confusion, dizziness, blocked or runny nose, conjunctivitis, headache, skin rashes, and chilblains.

If you suspect you have COVID symptoms, you will need to self-isolate and get a test to check if you have coronavirus as soon as possible. Do not leave home, except to get tested. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. This helps stop the virus spreading to other people. Find out below about how to get a test for coronavirus.

Use the 111 online coronavirus service if you’re not sure what to do, or if you are clinically extremely vulnerable. Call 111 if you cannot get online. 111 will tell you what to do or help you get a test to check if you have coronavirus. 

Getting a test to check if you have coronavirus

If you have symptoms of COVID, you can ask for a test to check if you have the virus.

Ask for the test as soon as you have symptoms – don’t wait. You normally need to get the test done in the first 5 days of having symptoms.

People across the UK can ask for a test:

  • For themselves if they have coronavirus symptoms now
  • For someone they live with, if they have coronavirus symptoms.

In England, you can ask for a test for a child who lives with you, however old they are. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can only get a test for a child if they are aged 5 or over. The test involves using a long cotton bud to take a swab from the inside of your nose and the back of your throat. You may be able to choose between walking or driving to a testing centre, or getting a home test kit in the post. Find out more about getting a test on the NHS website.

What does my test result mean?

You can get 3 results:

Read a detailed explanation of what to do for each result on the NHS website.

Negative

This means that the test did not find coronavirus. You usually don’t need to continue self-isolating if you get a negative result.

If you still feel unwell after a negative result, stay at home until you’re feeling better. Contact a GP if your symptoms get worse or do not go away. If you're being sick, have diarrhoea or have a high temperature, stay at home until 48 hours after they've stopped.

You should check with your employer before going back into work. Read more about negative test results on the NHS website.

Positive

This means the test found signs of coronavirus. You should continue to self-isolate. The people you live with might also need to self-isolate. You can read more about what to do if you test positive on the NHS website.

It's a legal requirement to self-isolate if you are told to do so. You could be fined if you do not self-isolate.

Unclear

An unclear test means that something has gone wrong with processing the sample in the lab. Get another test as soon as possible if this happens. 

Test and trace service

Test and trace services will help identify, contain and control coronavirus to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. If you haven’t already and your smartphone supports it, you should download the free NHS COVID-19 app. This app is a vital part of the NHS Test and Trace services in England and Wales.

If you test positive for coronavirus, you’ll be contacted by a test and trace service. You’ll be asked where you’ve been recently and who you’ve been in close contact with.

Close contact includes people in your household, people with whom you have had direct contact, or people you have been within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes.

If you’ve been in contact with someone who has coronavirus

Rules on self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who has coronavirus has changed. Depending on your vaccination status, you might not need to isolate.

If you are fully vaccinated (meaning 14 days has passed since your final COVID-19 vaccine), you will not need to isolate. You should instead get a PCR test, follow advice on reducing the spread of the virus and consider limiting contacting with people who are at a higher risk of illness from COVID-19. Read more about self-isolation on the NHS website.

If you live with someone who is at higher risk from COVID-19

It’s particularly important to try to avoid spreading the infection to someone who is 70 or over, who has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system. If you live with someone at higher risk, it’s a good idea to find somewhere else for them to stay while you are self-isolating.

If you have to stay at home with other people – at higher risk or not – there are things you can do to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. For example, try to keep 2 metres away from each other and avoid using shared spaces like kitchen at the same time. Read about how to avoid spreading the virus to people you live with.

What if I need help while self-isolating?

You must stay at home until you get your test result.

Self-isolating can be difficult, but it’s important as it will help stop the spread of coronavirus. Help and support is available, whether it’s help with everyday tasks like food shopping, or financial support if you cannot work. Read more about the support available on the NHS website.

At any time, use the 111 online service if you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home or your conditions get worse.

Call your GP or get in touch with NHS 111 as soon as possible if: 

  • You slowly start feeling more unwell or more breathless for 2 or more hours. 
  • You’re having difficulty breathing when you get up to go to the toilet or similar. 
  • You sense something is wrong - you’re generally weak, extremely tired, lost your appetite, the amount of urine you produce has reduced or you feel unable to care for yourself – simple tasks like washing and dressing or making food.

Call 999 if: 

  • You can’t finish short sentences when you’re resting because you’re so out of breath. 
  • Your breathing suddenly worsens within an hour. 

OR if these more general signs of serious illness develop. You are: 

  • coughing up blood
  • have blue lips or a blue face 
  • feel cold and sweaty with pale or blotchy skin 
  • have a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it 
  • collapse or faint 
  • become agitated, confused or very drowsy 
  • have stopped peeing or are peeing much less than usual

Need an isolation note for your employer?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus and have been told to self-isolate by an NHS website or a health care professional, you can get a note for your employer online.

If you feel well enough, and your employer agrees you can work from home, you don’t need an isolation note.

Recovering from COVID-19

We are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects people in the short and long term. If you have had pneumonia as a result of COVID-19, like any pneumonia, it can take you some time to recover. Read more on how recovery from pneumonia might look.

From our understanding so far, it seems to be taking people a while to recover after the worst of their illness. Some people have found they have trouble breathing afterwards. If you are affected in this way, talk to your health care professional. 

It is important to try to tell the difference between symptoms, such as feeling short of breath and cough that are part of your recovery from COVID-19, and symptoms of your long-term lung condition. Talk to your health care professional about this, and get advice urgently if your symptoms get worse at any time.

We have developed new information on Long COVID. The information covers what Long COVID is, support for breathlessness and physical activity, as well as information on Long COVID care in the NHS.


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Last updated: Thursday 30 September 2021

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Last medically reviewed: October 2021. Due for review: October 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.