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A Covid Infection Can Feel Different Every Time

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Cases are rising across the United States. Here’s what to know about how symptoms of an infection can shift.

A man lies back on a couch among pillows. He rubs his eyes and face.
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July 11, 2024Updated 12:06 p.m. ET

By this point in the Covid-19 pandemic, most people have had at least one brush with the virus. Those of us who have been infected again (and again) may think we know the drill.

But symptoms can vary from one infection to the next. The virus has felt like an entirely different illness each time I’ve tested positive: The first go-round, a fever flattened me. Once, I had barely any symptoms. The worst infection left me wrung-out on my couch, so exhausted I had to strain to pay attention to a podcast.

“No two Covid infections really have behaved the same,” said Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Cleveland Clinic.

Generally speaking, the more immunity people build up from vaccination or infections, the milder symptoms of subsequent infections tend to be. But for an individual, there is no guarantee that a second infection will be less severe than the first.

That’s partly because the virus has changed, developing into new variants. If you’re reinfected, that means the virus has evolved enough to slip past your immune defenses, said Dr. Davey Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Diego.

Many Covid symptoms have stayed the same since 2020: fever, sore throat, coughing. But some have shifted. It used to be common for people to lose their sense of taste and smell when they got sick, for example, but that now seems to happen less frequently. Early in the pandemic, Dr. Khabbaza said, people would tell him that their Covid infections felt like nothing they had experienced before. Now, he said, patients often think they have a cold, and are shocked when they test positive.


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Source: nytimes.com

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