First, the loss of taste and smell is specific to COVID-19 and is not seen in people who have the flu. “This is a very important difference to distinguish between the flu and COVID-19,” says Dr. Wong. While it may not manifest in all patients (about 38% to 55% of patients have reported loss of taste and around 40% have reported loss of smell), this specific symptom might come on anywhere from two days after contracting the virus up to 14 days after symptom onset.
Second, the way in which symptoms present themselves in patients is very different. Both the flu and COVID-19 cause a cough and shortness of breath, but overall, COVID-19 symptoms tend to last longer than the flu. “They can last for multiple weeks, if not months,” says Dr. Wong. Shortness of breath can also come later with COVID-19 and becomes more severe and long-lasting than the flu.
There are also some new and ongoing reports of symptoms associated with COVID-19 that people should be on the lookout for:
Red, swollen eyes. There have been occasional reports of red, swollen, and itchy eyes in some COVID-19 patients, which can look like conjunctivitis (or pink eye). “This is a symptom that can come on with other strains of coronavirus, so while not a distinguishing factor for COVID-19 specifically, it’s something to be watchful for,” says Dr. Wong.
Skin rashes. Viruses are often associated with rashes, so it’s not unusual for you or your child to develop one. “This was reported mostly in younger people, and we’re still gathering data on the different skin conditions that coincide with COVID-19, which have ranged from little red bumps and hives to chilblains — now temporarily called ‘COVID toes’ — which are painful, red-purple, or itchy bumps on the toes,” explains Dr. Wong.
If you or your child has any new skin condition or rash, call your doctor just to be safe. Since it can be hard for a clinician to distinguish whether a skin rash is from a COVID-19 infection or, say, hand, foot, and mouth disease (a viral infection that manifests as painful mouth sores and blisters on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet), your doctor will likely want to test you or your child for COVID-19.