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Symptoms and testing

Do the COVID-19 variants in South Africa have different symptoms?

The most common reported symptoms for all COVID-19 variants are the following:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and body pains
  • Shaking chills
  • Problems with the sense of taste or smell.

Some people may also present with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting or gastroenteritis, but these are less common. If you experience any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor immediately.

How long after I have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 can I spread the virus?

Symptoms usually start four or five days after a person has been infected with the virus, but in some cases it can take up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

If you suspect that you may have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should proceed as follows:

  • If you have not had COVID-19 before or you have not been vaccinated yet, you should get tested, even if you don't have any symptoms. Then, self-isolate for at least 10 days and monitor yourself. Stay home as far as possible and keep your distance from other people in your home.
  • If you have had COVID-19 within the last three months you do not need to self-isolate. If you had COVID-19 more than three months ago, self-isolate for at least 10 days and monitor yourself.
  • If you have been vaccinated, you do not need to self-isolate. Should your vaccine require two doses and you have already received the second dose, you do not need to self-isolate.

If you need to self-isolate for less than 10 days or you do not need to self-isolate, you should still monitor yourself. If you experience any symptoms, phone your doctor immediately.

For how long will I be contagious if I test positive?

In general, most people are no longer contagious 10 to 14 days after their symptoms have started. This will however depend on factors such as the severity of the infection and the symptoms they continue to experience. Discuss this with your doctor.

When is the illness at its worst?

If your illness is mild, you may have symptoms such as fever and a cough, but no trouble breathing. Most people are only mildly ill and can recuperate at home. This usually takes about two weeks, but it may differ from one person to the next.

If your illness is more severe and coupled with trouble breathing, you may need to be admitted to hospital, possibly to the intensive care unit. There, doctors and nurses can monitor and support your breathing and you may need oxygen or even a ventilator to help you breathe easily.


There is varied information regarding susceptibility to COVID-19. However it would seem that older people and those who have severe underlying medical illnesses are at higher risk of falling seriously ill if infected by COVID-19. In general, one should be aware that these groups may be most at risk –
  • People are more vulnerable from the age of 65 years onwards.
  • People of all ages with underlying medical illnesses. These include people with:
    • a chronic lung disease or asthma;
    • serious heart conditions;
    • a condition that suppresses the immune system such as those receiving cancer treatment;
    • diabetes;
    • chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis; and
    • liver disease

04 - Risk


If you are worried that you might be infected with the COVID-19 virus, go for a screening as soon as possible.

Phone your local doctor or clinic. They will tell you where to go to be screened for the virus. If you need to go to a doctor’s rooms, clinic or hospital, inform them beforehand of your visit. If you need to be tested after you’ve been screened for the virus, the healthcare provider will refer you.

Read more about the difference between screening and testing, and what to expect, in our HealthyInfo.

Use Medihelp’s online provider search functionality to find a doctor or hospital in your area.


  • Always wear a face mask and avoid personal contact with other people.
  • Inform everyone with whom you have been in contact that you are displaying symptoms of the virus.
  • Isolate yourself as a precautionary measure while awaiting the test results and ensure that your symptoms are monitored.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, and practise good hand hygiene.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items with other people.
  • Clean all frequently touched surfaces regularly.

05 - Exposure


02 - About