This document provides guidance on caring for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have published guidelines for the clinical management of COVID-19external icon prepared by the COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel. The recommendations are based on scientific evidence and expert opinion and are regularly updated as more data become available.
For guidance related to children with COVID-19, please see the Pediatric Considerations section below.
The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to extend to 14 days, with a median time of 4-5 days from exposure to symptoms onset.(1-3) One study reported that 97.5% of people with COVID-19 who have symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of SARS-CoV-2 infection.(3)
The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 present at illness onset vary, but over the course of the disease many people with COVID-19 will experience the following:(1,4-9)
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms may differ with severity of disease. For example, shortness of breath is more commonly reported among people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 than among people with milder disease (non-hospitalized patients).(10, 11) Atypical presentations of COVID-19 occur often, and older adults and people with medical comorbidities may experience fever and respiratory symptoms later during the course of illness than people who are younger or who do not have comorbidities.(12, 13) In one study of 1,099 hospitalized patients, fever was present in only 44% at hospital admission but eventually 89% of patients had a fever sometime during hospitalization.(1) Fatigue, headache, and muscle aches (myalgia) are among the most commonly reported symptoms in people who are not hospitalized, and sore throat and nasal congestion or runny nose (rhinorrhea) also may be prominent symptoms. Many people with COVID-19 experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, sometimes prior to having fever and lower respiratory tract signs and symptoms.(9) Loss of smell (anosmia) or taste (ageusia) has been commonly reported, in a third of patients in one study, especially among women and younger or middle-aged patients.(14)