COVID-19 disease and symptoms

Learn about COVID-19, how it spreads, who is at risk, what to do if you think you have it, and what resources and support are available to you.

About COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.

How COVID-19 spreads

The virus is usually spread from person to person by:

  • close contact with an infectious person
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe. Some people recover easily, and others get very sick very quickly. If you test positive for COVID-19 you may experience:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include:

  • runny nose or congestion
  • headache or fatigue
  • muscle or joint pains
  • nausea or loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or vomiting
  • temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to some common illnesses, such as colds and flu, or allergies. 

See our COVID-19: Identifying the symptoms fact sheet. 

You can use our COVID-19 symptom checker to find out if you need to get tested, or seek medical help.

Check your symptoms

COVID-19 variants

Viruses naturally change or mutate. This can lead to what is known as a variant to the main virus strain. This generally happens where there is a large amount of community transmission.

COVID-19 variants are continuing to emerge. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for tracking variants of concern and interest.

There are currently 13 named variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some previous variants of concern were declassified as a variant of concern once further data was available.

The WHO has identified the variants of concern as:

  • Alpha – first found in the United Kingdom
  • Beta – first found in South Africa
  • Delta – first found in India
  • Gamma – first found in Brazil
  • Omicron – first found in South Africa.

Long COVID

Most people who test positive for COVID-19 recover completely, but some people may develop long COVID.

Long COVID is where symptoms of COVID-19 remain, or develop, long after the initial infection – usually after 4 weeks. Symptoms of long COVID can last for weeks or sometimes months, and include:

  • extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • changes to taste and smell
  • joint and muscle pain.

It is not yet known how long symptoms of long COVID will last. 

Getting help for Long COVID

This resource provides information and explains the different symptoms you may experience if you have Long COVID, where symptoms of COVID-19 remain.
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