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07th Feb 2022

Signs you may have already had Covid without knowing about it

April Curtin

People walking in a crowd with face coverings on to prevent the spread of Covid

Just because you haven’t tested positive doesn’t mean you never were

Almost 18 million people have caught covid in the UK, according to official figures, with Brits experiencing a range of symptoms from extreme fatigue and a tickly throat to a loss of taste and smell, and shortness of breath.

In some cases, covid infection has been obvious, especially during the early stages of the pandemic. But, two years on from our first recorded case in January 2020, many people are still yet to see a double line on a lateral flow or had their plans ruined by a positive PCR.

But that’s not to say they’ve escaped covid’s clutches, and never had the virus.

While shoving a swab up your nose might seem a lot like brushing one’s teeth by now, during the early days of the pandemic testing was not readily available  – meaning many of us can never really be sure if we ever dodged the virus that has claimed 158,000 lives in the UK.

But there are some signs to watch out for to help you piece your own covid puzzle together.

You had it before you even knew Covid was a thing

Everyone was living life on New Year's 2019 without even thinking of Covid
Us living our best life on NYE 2019 before Covid ruined everything [Photo: Getty]
For a lot of us, the pandemic didn’t really start to feel real until lockdown happened in March 2020. But by then covid had already been circulating for some time.

The first outbreak in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organisation in December 2019, and the first two cases in the UK were confirmed two months later.

So, chances are, you could have unknowingly had the virus pre-lockdown. Considering it was winter too, symptoms could have been mistaken for the flu.

Your ‘cold’ was actually covid

If you had a fever, cough, tiredness, muscle ache, headache, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomitting or diarrhoea (the covid symptoms identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) you could have had covid. A loss or change to your sense of taste or smell is also identified by the NHS as a common symptom of covid.

It is worth noting that these symptoms could have also not been covid, but a cold or flu virus. And we cannot know for sure.

But there are some other interesting symptoms to consider…

Your symptoms were severe

More severe symptoms could have also been a sign you had covid as opposed to the common cold. Shortness of breath isn’t typically a flu symptom, as Healthline explains, but it is a common symptom of covid. So, if you were struggling with this at any point, chances are you may have had the coronavirus.

Chest pain or tightness could also be a sign you’ve had covid. According to Web MD, this could cause a fast heartbeat, heart flutters, or a pounding heart for up to six weeks after you were infected with the virus.

Eye spy with my little eye…. covid

Something beginning with ‘C’ [Photo: Getty]
Had some horrible eye issues in the past two years or so? Apparently, it could have been the ‘rona’ ruining your retinas.

Conjunctivitis (pink eye), watering eyes, or blurred vision could have been a sign of the virus, according to Web MD.

This is because covid is thought to enter your cells through receptors, Healthline explains. It said dry eyes, excessive tearing, and increased eye secretions could have also been down to covid.

Hair today, gone tomorrow 

Experienced hair loss in the past two years? That could be due to a past covid infection, according to experts.

Alexis Young, MD, a dermatologist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey told The Healthy: “This phenomenon is known as telogen effluvium and occurs when physical or psychological stress causes hair roots to be pushed into a resting state prematurely.

“It’s not specific to Covid-19, but I am seeing lots more of it among people who are recovering from covid-19, including some who may not have known they were infected in the first place.”

Try not to stress, because your hair is likely to grow back.

Young said: “Hair follicles aren’t permanently damaged with telogen effluvium. Shedding can continue up to six months, and full recovery can take up to 18 months because hair grows back so slowly.”

You had a skin rash

Your temperature may have been fine but may perhaps your body wasn’t [Photo: Getty]
Young also said skin rashes related to covid have also been observed.

“We are also seeing viral exanthems, which is a skin rash that is often related to a viral infection after COVID-19,” she told The Healthy.

That illness hung around way too long

Did that cold you had in 2019/2020 just not seem to go away? Chances are it could have been covid.

Covid symptoms can stick around two weeks or longer, Web MD explains, while a cold typically lasts only a few days. So if you remember feeling rough for a while, it could have been covid.

People you lived with were ill

'Act like you've got it' billboard to encourage people to stay at home stop the spread of coronavirus [Photo Getty]
‘Act like you’ve got it’ [Photo: Getty]
If other people in your house were ill, they could have been infected with covid, and if they were infected, there is a chance you were infected too.

Around 1 in 3 people with covid don’t display any symptoms. So, you could have definitely had it, even if you were completely symptomless.

You passed the test, but…

Even if you’ve been doing your duty and testing wherever necessary on the lookout for covid, you could have missed an opportunity to detect it.

Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told The Healthy: “Any test you take is (a) snapshot of the past 12 to 24 hours, and you can’t extrapolate from a single test.”

Horovitz continued: “Depending on when and how you tested, you may not have caught the infection.”

In December, a UK expert warned people on Twitter just how quickly lateral flow tests can change from negative to positive.

Billy Quilty, an infectious disease epidemiologist at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, urged people to wait until just before they go out to do them.

You’ve got natural antibodies

You can take an antibody test to find out whether you’re likely to have had covid before. It checks if your body has created antibodies to covid-19, and whether these are from the vaccine or not.

But as the NHS explains, some people who’ve had the virus or the vaccine don’t have antibodies. So, the test doesn’t work for everyone.

So, these are some potential signs that show you could have had covid. Of course, it’s important to remember that you can never be sure for certain, and there is a huge range of other explanations such as other viruses or even stress that could cause some of these symptoms.

If you need more advice, be sure to visit the NHS website.

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