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Coronavirus symptoms: When is a cough a sign of COVID-19? Three distinctive warning signs

The UK hospital death toll rose by 177 today, taking the total number of hospital-related deaths to 30,533. The daily death toll and new rates of infection may be tapering off, but, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson reminded us yesterday in his daily press conference, the threat is still far from negligible. Nonetheless, now the virus presents less of an immediate threat, it is high time to clear up some of the confusions that have persisted over the last couple of months.


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Symptoms have been a point of controversy as the UK health bodies carried out their public health campaign.

Critics have sometimes felt that the listed symptoms have been too vague, leaving people to either disregard the warning signs or mistake other ailments for COVID-19-related symptoms.

People can pay a heavy price for both overreacting and under-reacting so it is important to spell out exactly what each stated symptom means.

Take a new, continuous cough.

There are key characteristics of a COVID-19 related cough that set it part from a regular cough.

According to the NHS, this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).

Patient reports have also helped to flesh out the details.

Speaking to WalesOnline, Richard Jones, 39, provided graphic details about his coughing fit.

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He said: “Within a few days it quickly got much worse and I began coughing up phlegm and blood.”

Another symptom to clarify is loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

According to the NHS, this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

The other main warning sign highlighted by the health body is a high temperature, which it characterises as feeling hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature).


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What should I do if I spot these symptoms?

According to UK health advice, you should self-isolate if you have any symptoms of coronavirus.

You are advised to self-isolate for a period of seven days from the moment symptoms appear.

You can stop self-isolating after seven days if either:

  • Your symptoms have gone
  • You just have a cough or changes to your sense of smell or taste – these symptoms can last for weeks after the infection has gone

According to the NHS, if certain conditions are not met, you should keep self-isolating beyond seven days, however.

The health body says to keep self-isolating if the following symptoms persist:

  • A high temperature or feeling hot and shivery
  • A runny nose or sneezing
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite

“If you have diarrhoea or you’re being sick, stay at home until 48 hours after they’ve stopped,” notes the health body.

It is important to note that you may be able to stop self-isolating earlier than seven days if you get a negative test result (you do not have coronavirus).

Although, self-isolate for 14 days if you live with someone who has symptoms, has tested positive or is waiting for a test result, adds the NHS.

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