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Timeline of a virus: The day-to-day journey of Covid-19

A research assistant holds coronavirus test samples in her hands.
A research assistant holds coronavirus test samples in her hands.

Coronavirus symptoms can vary in severity from feeling like a mild cold or flu to severe illness and death.

The virus first hit Wuhan in China at the end of last year but has since spread to more than 1 million cases worldwide, with scientists working hard to track the typical symptoms and figure out the day-by-day breakdown.

It comes as the number of coronavirus in the UK has risen to 55,242 – up from 51,608 yesterday – with the death toll standing at 6,159.

Recent studies from the Chinese province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, found the two most common symptoms were fever and a dry cough.

Day 1

The symptoms usually start off mild with many patients experiencing a fever, dry cough, or occasional shortness of breath.

The study showed the most common symptoms at the onset of illness were fever (136 patients or 98.6%), dry cough (82 patients or 59.4%), muscle pain (48 patients or 34.8%) and shortness of breath (43 patients or 31.2%).

The research, which looked at the characteristics of 139 hospitalised patients with coronavirus-infected pneumonia in Wuhan, China, between January 1 to January 28, found that a total of  14 patients (10.1%) initially presented with diarrhoea and nausea one to two days prior to development of fever and shortness of breath.

Day 5

The team of researchers found that on average it took five days for people to develop signs of breathing difficulties from the date they first started to display symptoms.

Symptoms can include tightness in the chest, rapid, shallow breathing, heart palpitations and wheezing.

Day 7

For the majority of people, most symptoms will last for seven days, with the government stating in their guidelines that those suffering from either a dry cough or fever should self-isolate for a period of seven days.

However, if you live with other people, they will need to stay at home for 14 days from the start of your symptoms even if they don’t have symptoms themselves.

If they develop symptoms within the 14 days, they need to stay at home for seven days from the day their symptoms began.

They should do this even if it takes them over the 14-day isolation period.

For those who don’t see their symptoms easing, they tend to be admitted to hospital on day seven.

Day 8

The study from Wuhan shows that severe cases tend to develop signs of acute respiratory distress (ARDS) at this point.

The NHS state this is a life-threatening condition where the lungs cannot provide the body’s vital organs with enough oxygen.

This occurs when the lungs become severely inflamed from an infection or injury. The inflammaton causes fluid from nearby blood vessels to leak into the tiny air sacs in the lungs, making breathing increasingly difficult.

Of the 138 hospitalised patients with coronavirus-infected pneumonia in Wuhan, 64 (46.4%) had one or more co-existing medical condtions.

The most common of these were hypertension (43 patients or 31.2%), diabetes (14 patients or 10.1%), cardiovascular disease (20 patients or 14.5%) and the state or presence of a malignant tumour (10 patients or 7.2%).

Day 10

Researchers in the study found the average time for ICU submission was 10 days – the same number of days in which Boris Johnson was in isolation before being admitted to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in Central London.

As of February 3, of the 138 patients included in this study, 26% required ICU care, 34.1% were discharged, six died (4.3%) and 61.6% remained hospitalised.

The average hospital stay was 10 days.

MHS Tayside lung disease expert Professor James Chalmers said the Prime Minister’s case was “very typical” of what he has been witnessing on wards in Dundee, with initially moderate symptoms, followed by a worsening of symptoms between seven to 10 days requiring hospitalisation.


18 days

Another Wuhan-based study, which looked at 191 patients with confirmed Covid-19, who were discharged or who had died by January 31, found the average time from illness onset to discharge was 22 days, whereas the average time to death was 18.5 days.

That same body of research found the average time for emitting the virus among survivors was 20 days, with a maximum time of 37 days.

Expert view: Professor James Chalmers

In an online video for NHS Tayside, Professor James Chalmers, consultant respiratory physician at the health board and chair of respiratory research at the British Lung Foundation, said clinicians now know that more than 50% of people who get the virus will experience no symptoms.

He added that the “vast majority” experience just cold and flu-like symptoms that last for about seven days.

He added: “A very much smaller proportion experience more difficult symptoms and that’s overwhelmingly people who are older and have underlying health conditions like heart disease and lung disease.

“The risk of experiencing complications from this condition is actually very low.

“We now estimate it’s a little bit worse than the flu but not dramatically worse than the flu.

“What’s really important is that risk is much higher than people who are older and have underlying conditions so we need to follow the social distancing guidelines.

“We need to keep away from each other and stay at home as much as possible. Not really for ourselves to protect the rest of society and in particular the vulnerable in society.”

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