Corona Symptoms: No one wants to pass COVID-19 on to a loved one (or anyone). But there is no exact answer yet to determine how long you are contagious, as it can vary from person to person.
That’s why you may have a hard time figuring out whether you’re putting others at risk. However, there are rules you can follow and things you can know to help protect those around you and ease others’ concerns about your infection.
In this article, we’ll share expert guidance on how long you’re at risk of contracting COVID-19, including the currently dominant viral strain.
The average person is infectious for around 10 days
As per Dr Stuart Campbell Ray, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, it’s not always clear how long a person remains contagious because, like many things with COVID-19, the exact timeline depends on a number of factors.
But, Ray said, according to early information on COVID-19, if you are infectious, your symptoms should be distinct for a full five days after infection begins — counting the first day of your symptoms as zero.
But also keep in mind that even after five days it is not necessary that the symptoms of your Covid-19 have become clearly visible. “It’s often said that you should still wear a mask after this and try to protect others because it’s hard to be sure how long you are contagious,” Ray said.
“This period of infection often lasts 10 days,” he said — and once again, the first day of your symptoms counts as day zero. You are potentially contagious for about 10 days after symptoms begin. You should isolate for the first five days and wear a mask for at least six to 10 days.
Certain times when you’re the most contagious
According to Dr Neha Vyas, a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, you are most infectious from about 48 hours before you get a positive result to about five days after your symptoms start. He called this the “period of maximal contagiousness”.
Therefore, you’ll want to be extra careful at this stage. Although it is difficult to know if you are sick before the symptoms of corona appear, so the first 48 hours are really difficult.
Meanwhile now, the amount of time between corona infection and its symptoms has shortened further as COVID-19 mutates, which means that omicron subvariants such as XBB – currently may spread.
If you have been in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive, you can get tested even before you have symptoms. Or, if you recently attended a crowded indoor event, you can have your test a few days later. Plus, there’s really no way of knowing you’re infected before you start showing symptoms.
And in the period after your illness, remember that you can still spread COVID-19, which is why it’s important to wear a mask for at least 10 days.
If you have symptoms after 10 days, you may be spreading the infection
Anyone whose symptoms persist for the last 10 days and whose results are positive (corona positive), can potentially transmit the virus to others. If you are, keep wearing a mask and avoid indoor places and events, Ray said.
Dr Vyas said, “If you have low immunity or you had a really severe Covid infection, you can remain contagious for up to 20 days”.
Long-term contagiousness like this is rare, he stresses, but if you fall into either of those categories, talk to your doctor for further guidance.
If possible, you should self-isolate from others in your household for five days. After this it is necessary to wear a mask.
At-home antigen tests are a good way to tell if you’re still contagious
Ray said it is not unusual for someone to be COVID-positive on laboratory tests weeks after a COVID-19 infection, “but it would be very unusual for someone to be positive (corona positive) on antigen tests for weeks.”
The antigen test is the type you would have picked up from a pharmacy, or obtained from the government (who are still doing free tests).
Ray said a positive antigen test is related to the virus’s ability to multiply and infect. So if your antigen test is positive, you are potentially infectious.
“We generally say that if your symptoms have completely resolved and you have a negative test, you are not likely to be infectious,” Ray said.
If you want to be extra cautious, you can take two COVID tests
If it’s been 10 days since you were symptomatic and no longer have any symptoms, but you are feeling concerned about potentially spreading the virus to a loved one, you can do the following things.
- Dr. Vyas said, “You can do two Covid tests at an interval of 48 hours.” “If they are both negative, you can be certain you are no longer contagious.”
- He said most people would not need to do this as long as they followed the 10-day guidance. But if you’re worried about spreading the virus, this is a good tip.
If you live in a household with others, you should do everything possible to protect them.
- Dr Ali Khan, the chief medical officer at Oak Street Health, said, “If possible, an infectious person should use a separate bedroom and bathroom, especially during this five-day period after symptoms begin.”
- When this is not possible, wear a well-fitting mask — ideally an N95 or KN95 — around other people in your household.
- Dr Khan said an infected person should have their own tableware and bed sheets and should avoid touching things shared by other members of the family.
- “Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently,” Dr. Khan said, “and this applies even to people who are not infected.”
- Finally, to protect both yourself and your loved ones, make sure you are up to date on your COVID-19 boosters.
- “It’s certainly not too late to get shots for COVID-19 and flu, as they will still curb severe symptoms, even if you’re sick,” Khan said.