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Symptoms of COVID-19 and when to seek medical advice

8-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

How will I know if my symptoms are mild, moderate or severe?

Mild symptoms

The following symptoms are considered mild:

Moderate symptoms

The following symptoms are considered moderate:

  • shortness of breath while walking around, such as noticeably having to breathe more heavily while walking around the house
  • persistent fever above 38oC that's not responding to treatment
  • persistent worsening cough that regularly produces mucus
  • struggling to get out of bed and feeling dizzy or weak

Severe symptoms

The following symptoms are considered severe:

  • breathlessness at rest and/or you’re unable to speak in sentences
  • being unconscious, fainting or drowsy
  • skin turning blue or pale
  • cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
  • pain or pressure in the chest lasting more than 10 minutes
  • confusion
  • passing no urine (‘wee’) or a lot less urine than usual
  • coughing up blood

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need medical help.

If you are experiencing any severe symptoms call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

If your symptoms worsen, you or your caregivers should call your GP for advice. If you can’t reach your GP straight away, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

If you go to a hospital emergency department (ED), contact it beforehand to tell the staff that you have COVID-19. When you arrive, wear a surgical mask at all times and tell staff straight away that you have COVID-19.

What should I do if I develop COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 — even if they are mild — you should get tested and stay at home until you receive a negative test result, regardless of your vaccination status.

If you’re considered a close contact, you will need to follow certain public-health directions.

If the Symptom Checker tells you to, contact your GP and describe your symptoms and any contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19. You can also attend a COVID-19 clinic in your area.

You can also call the Australian Government's National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

When should I seek medical advice?

Most people can manage COVID-19 at home. Those who have mild COVID-19 symptoms may be advised that it is safe for them to manage their symptoms at home instead of going to hospital.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has developed a guide for people managing COVID at home. It includes a COVID-19 action plan and a diary that you can use to track your symptoms.

Ask yourself this 3 times a day (morning, afternoon and night) – am I able to:

  • get my own food?
  • drink (for example, water) without any help?
  • go to the toilet normally?
  • take my regular medication?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, call your GP.

You should also contact your GP if you feel dizzy or lightheaded or your symptoms start to worsen.

You should contact your GP or health service if you’re pregnant, have any chronic conditions or have any concerns about your health. Your doctor may be able to assess you over the phone or by video.

If you need to attend a medical centre in person:

  • Contact the medical centre beforehand to tell staff that you have COVID-19.
  • Take a private vehicle or walk if practical. You shouldn’t take public transport, taxis or ride-share cars.
  • Wear a face mask while travelling and when in the practice. Others in the vehicle should also wear a face mask.
  • Tell staff straight away that you have COVID-19, and follow their instructions.

If you are experiencing any severe symptoms call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

How soon after exposure to COVID-19 do symptoms appear?

The COVID-19 incubation period, which is the time between when a person is exposed to the virus and when their symptoms first appear, ranges from 1 to 14 days. Most people develop symptoms 5 to 6 days after being in contact with a person with COVID-19.

Australia’s national COVID-19 public health guidelines use a 14-day incubation period to inform many public health measures, such as quarantine and isolation.

When is a person with COVID infectious, and can they transmit the virus to others before symptoms appear?

As a precaution, people are currently considered infectious from 48 hours before their symptoms develop until they meet criteria for release from isolation. This is because it appears that transmission can occur 1 to 3 days before any symptoms appear.

Infected people can transmit the virus whether they have symptoms or not.

How is COVID-19 different from the flu (influenza)?

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. The seasonal flu is caused by different types of influenza virus.

Both diseases are infections and can cause respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat, runny nose and cough, as well as fever.

However, there are some differences:

  • Influenza often includes muscle pains and headache, while these symptoms are less common in COVID-19.
  • So far, severe COVID-19 has mainly affected older age groups and people with chronic illnesses. But severe cases of the flu can sometimes make otherwise healthy people, children and pregnant women very sick too.

Related topics

Treating symptoms at home

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People with a mild case of COVID-19 can treat their symptoms in a similar way to how they treat a seasonal flu. Here's how to relieve symptoms at home.

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How to monitor symptoms

If you’re able to manage your COVID-19 at home, you might be asked to follow a management plan. Learn how to check your breathing rate, oxygen levels and heart rate.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2022


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