How long does Covid last? When is it most contagious, how long is the incubation period and whether you need to isolate

Due to the spread of the Omicron variants BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5, Covid-19 cases are increasing again.

According to official government data, 77,550 people tested positive for the virus in England in the seven days to June 16 – a 32 per cent increase on the previous week.

However, the real numbers are likely to be far higher as the government only tracks positive tests that have been logged on its website and has now stopped providing free tests.

Zoe Covid’s study, which has been collecting data throughout the pandemic, says there are currently around 200,000 new infections every day across the UK.

It is forecast that around 2.2 million people are currently suffering from symptomatic Covid.

As cases rise again, here’s everything you need to know about how long the virus lasts and what to do if you test positive.

How long does Covid usually last?

Most people with Covid-19 will feel better within a few days, with symptoms usually not lasting more than a few weeks.

People who have been triple-vaccinated are less likely to have severe symptoms and may also recover more quickly.

However, some people will experience what is known as Long Covid.

The NHS says the likelihood of having long-term symptoms doesn’t appear to be related to how ill you are when you first get the virus.

Symptoms of Long Covid include:

  • Extreme tiredness (tiredness)
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • Memory and concentration disorders (“brain fog”)
  • sleep disorders (insomnia)
  • palpitations
  • dizziness
  • needles and pins
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus, earache
  • Nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite
  • High temperature, cough, headache, sore throat, changes in smell or taste
  • skin rashes

Contact a GP if you continue to have symptoms several weeks after you first tested positive for Covid-19.

Covid symptoms

The NHS lists the following as official Covid symptoms:

  • High temperature or tremors (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot when you touch your chest or back (you don’t need to take your temperature).
  • New persistent cough – this means a lot of coughing for more than an hour or three or more coughing fits in 24 hours
  • Loss or change in your sense of smell or taste
  • shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • aching body
  • headache
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling sick or being sick

What is the standard Covid incubation period?

For earlier variants of Covid-19, like Alpha and Delta, the World Health Organization said symptoms could develop anywhere from two days to two weeks after infection.

However, the incubation period of Omicron and its offshoots is likely to be much shorter – between three and five days.

It is believed that people are most contagious one to two days before symptoms appear and two to three days after.

Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady told NBC, “As we’ve seen these new variants evolve — Delta, now Omicron — we’re seeing everything accelerate.

“It takes less time for someone to be exposed to Covid to potentially develop an infection. It takes less time to develop symptoms, it takes less time for someone to be contagious, and many people take less time to recover. Much of this is because many more people are vaccinated.”

Health Minister Sajid Javid said in December following the emergence of Omicron: “Recent analysis by the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectivity may be shorter for the Omicron variant than for the Delta variant.”

The data shows that the majority of people are no longer contagious seven days after the onset of symptoms or first positive tests, particularly if they have been vaccinated, and the vast majority are no longer contagious after 10 days.

How long can you test positive for Covid?

Most people stop testing positive within 10 days of the onset of symptoms or of receiving their first positive test.

However, it is possible to test positive weeks or even months after contracting the virus.

The good news is that even if you continue to test positive after a long time, it is very unlikely that you are actually contagious.

The Gavi Vaccine Alliance explains: “The time it takes to test negative after contracting Covid-19 depends on the severity of the case and also on the test itself.

“PCR tests, which seek out pieces of viral genetic material (RNA in the case of Covid-19) in our bodies and amplify them for us to detect, are extremely sensitive and can even detect the presence of fewer viral fragments. This is because fragments of viral RNA can remain in our bodies long after the infection has passed and the virus has been cleared from our system.”

What should I do if I test positive?

Covid advice differs depending on where you live in the UK.

Self-isolation is no longer a legal requirement in England, but the NHS advises that those infected with Covid should “stay at home and avoid contact with other people” to help stem the spread of the virus.

In particular, you should avoid close contact with people at increased risk of Covid, for example if they are elderly or have a compromised immune system, even if they have received the vaccine.

Those infected should try to work from home if possible. “If you are unable to work from home, speak to your employer about the options available to you,” the government’s recommendations say.

Positive cases should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of their test.

Scotland’s national health information service is also recommending self-isolation for people who have tested positive for coronavirus, but is also advising them to book a free PCR test.

You should then isolate for 10 days from the date your symptoms started. If you had a positive PCR or lateral flow test result but no symptoms, you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date of your test.

You may be able to end self-isolation early if you get two consecutive negative lateral flow test results 24 hours apart, starting on day six.

If you are a fully vaccinated close contact, e.g. B. someone living with an infected person, you can undergo daily lateral flow tests instead of self-isolation.

If you are a close contact who is not fully vaccinated, you should self-isolate for 10 days and book a PCR test.

The Welsh Government is advising anyone who tests positive for Covid to self-isolate. Anyone who feels the main symptoms should also isolate and do a lateral flow test, which can still be ordered free of charge.

Positive cases should self-isolate for five full days, starting the day after their symptoms appear or the day of their test, whichever comes first.

If you test negative on days five and six, you can leave isolation. If you still have a high temperature or are unwell, you should continue to self-isolate until the temperature returns to normal or you are feeling better.

If you test positive on day five or six, you should continue testing daily until you have two negative results in a row, a day apart or by day 10, whichever comes first.

In Northern Ireland it is recommended that if you are symptomatic, you are advised to isolate yourself and book a free lateral flow test.

If you test positive or are in close contact with someone who has tested positive, you should isolate yourself for 10 days from the date you took the test or the date your symptoms started, whichever comes first.

You can end your isolation if you have two consecutive negative lateral flow test results measured 24 hours apart, with the first of these measured no earlier than day five.

If your lateral flow tests are still positive after 10 days, you can leave isolation.

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