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Recovering from COVID-19

6-minute read

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

How long does COVID-19 last? When will I recover?

The infectious period varies from person to person. Most people with COVID-19 will have a mild illness and will recover in a few days.

Generally, symptoms in children and babies are milder than those in adults, and some infected kids may not show any signs of being unwell.

People at higher risk of serious illness may take weeks to recover. If a person develops long-term health problems caused by COVID-19, symptoms most commonly continue for 2 to 8 weeks after infection.

Generally, people are considered infectious from 48 hours before symptoms start. In high-risk settings, they may be considered infectious from 72 hours before symptoms start.

People with mild illness are generally considered to be recovered after 7 days if they have been asymptomatic or have not developed any new symptoms during this time.

Sometimes people can still return a positive COVID-19 test although they have recovered. This is because people with COVID-19 have infected cells in their body that release the virus into the environment through breathing, sneezing or coughing, or through their faeces and urine. This is called ‘viral shedding’.

After recovering from COVID-19, some people can have non-infectious fragments of the virus left in their bodies for some time. This may lead to a weak positive COVID-19 test and prompt further testing to confirm the person is no longer infectious.

How long does a case in the community have to isolate for?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you usually have to isolate at home for at least 7 days from the day of testing. If you haven’t had any symptoms during this time or have not developed any new symptoms you may return to normal living. Some states and territories may require you to be tested to exit isolation, please check their requirements.

Some people can still have symptoms at day 6 and may need to have further testing. If you still have symptoms at day 6, you must continue to isolate until your symptoms are gone. Learn more about when you can stop isolating.

Do I need a medical certificate or negative test result to return to work after self-isolating?

You don't need a medical certificate and your employer should not ask you to be tested for COVID-19 to return to work.

You need to continue to follow any restrictions that apply to the community in your state or territory.

Specific criteria apply to healthcare workers and aged care workers. Since the criteria may change, before they return to work these workers should check with a medical practitioner or the public health authority whether they meet the requirements for clearance to leave isolation.

What is ‘long COVID’?

Also called ‘post COVID-19 condition’ by the World Health Organization, this refers to when a person continues to have COVID-19 symptoms for months after their diagnosis.

Post COVID-19 condition can occur in people with a history of COVID-19, usually 3 months from the start of their COVID-19 symptoms, with symptoms that last for at least 3 to 9 months that can’t be explained with a different diagnosis.

Even people who had a mild COVID-19 infection and weren’t hospitalised can still have long COVID.

Symptoms may appear after a person’s initial recovery from COVID-19 or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also change from time to time or go away and reappear.

There is no specific treatment for this condition. Any person who develops post COVID-19 condition should seek care.

What can I expect post–COVID-19?

Everyone will have a different experience in their recovery from COVID-19. Some people may recover in days, some in weeks. But for others, it could be months. Although each case is unique, people recovering from more severe symptoms are likely to face a longer recovery period.

Schedule regular appointments with your GP to discuss your symptoms and how best to manage them. Your GP will tell you about any medicines that might suit your needs.

Common symptoms you may experience during your recovery:

  • fatigue
  • cough
  • breathlessness
  • joint or muscle pain
  • chest pain
  • change in sense of taste or smell
  • anxiety and/or low mood

Less common symptoms:

  • low-grade fever
  • headache
  • memory difficulties
  • confusion
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • stomach and digestion difficulties
  • rash
  • depression

If you have any of the following symptoms, call emergency services on 000 immediately and tell the phone operator you’ve previously been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • severe chest pain or pressure
  • a new or returning fever
  • worsening ability to concentrate and increased confusion
  • difficulty waking up

Do I need the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19 in the past?

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for people who've had COVID-19. If you’ve had a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection, you can delay COVID-19 vaccination by up to 6 months after recovering. This is because after you've had COVID-19, your risk of being reinfected is reduced for at least 6 months.

Serological testing or other testing to detect current or previous infection with COVID-19 before vaccination is neither necessary nor recommended before vaccination.

There is no requirement to delay vaccination.

However, you might choose to be vaccinated within 6 months after you’ve recovered from COVID-19 if you:

  • are significantly immunocompromised and may be at greater risk of getting COVID-19 again
  • have a job that requires you to be vaccinated
  • have a job that puts you at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19

You should not be vaccinated until you’ve recovered from the acute illness. People with a past COVID-19 infection should receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

People with prolonged symptoms from COVID-19 beyond 6 months should be vaccinated on a case-by-case basis. Speak to your healthcare provider.

A healthcare professional can consult with a specialist immunisation service for additional advice if needed.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and how to make an appointment.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, including vaccinations and restrictions.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

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

Last reviewed: January 2022


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